In an interview with The Daily Caller earlier this month, Alaskan insurgent candidate Joe Miller suggested poll numbers showing him down 30 points in the GOP Senate primary were just not right.
Fast-forward to today, and it appears he may have been on to something that most pollsters and reporters were not, as he’s poised to pull off a major upset if he’s able to hold onto his lead when all the votes are finally tallied from Tuesday’s election. If that happens, Miller will replace incumbent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski on the ballot as the Republican Party’s Senate nominee in November — no small feat.
The tabloid antics of another Alaskan, Levi Johnston, may have received more attention in recent weeks from the national media— who largely missed the fact that the Alaska primary was as competitive as it turned out to be — but the Sarah Palin-backed lawyer from Fairbanks has their attention now.
So who is Joe Miller, the bearded lawyer who has never been elected to office, who says he’s an Alaskan by choice and who grew up in a working class family in Kansas, but “headed to the Last Frontier sixteen years ago because of his love for the outdoors”?
“Joe Miller is one of the most capable Tea Party-backed candidates we’ve encountered in the entire country,” said Joe Wierzbicki, who leads the Tea Party Express, a group who spent a considerable amount of money on his behalf attacking “Liberal Lisa.”
Throughout the primary, Miller attacked Murkowski as just that — a Republican who supports government bailouts, doesn’t oppose President Obama’s health care law and is pro-choice. His pro-life stance may have helped him win over anti-abortion voters Tuesday as a parental notification initiative was also on the ballot. “I think the [Proposition] 2 measure certainly helped us,” a campaign spokesman for Miller said.
“Joe Miller turned Lisa Murkowski into a Democrat, a Tony Knowles Democrat,” Alaskan political writer Michael Carey told The Washington Post. “This was either brilliant or dumb luck. He just rolled her up in the most conservative areas of the state. Those voters always, always, look for the most conservative candidate, and they sure found him.”
As they’ve done with other Tea Party backed candidates, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee blasted out a memo Wednesday titled “Extremist Joe Miller’s Agenda Wrong For Middle Class Alaskans,” seeking to portray Miller as outside the mainstream by seizing on past comments about privatizing social security.
A West Point graduate who received a Bronze Star for combat during the first Gulf War, Miller graduated from Yale Law School and attained a master’s degree in economics from the University of Alaska. At one time, the Fairbanks lawyer was the only judge in the United States serving both the federal and state levels simultaneously.
This isn’t Miller’s first nail biter of a race either, having lost by several points in 2004 to a Democrat incumbent for a state House seat.
Randy DeSoto, a spokesman for Miller, described the candidate this way during an interview Wednesday: “He believes in kind of the Ronald Reagan view of government that the larger government gets the less freedom people have.”
Wierzbicki says Miller is “a gifted communicator,” who “retains an incredible amount of knowledge and is very comfortable talking to people about it—whether at rallies, in one-on-one meetings or in media interviews.”
“He’s smart, informed and principled. He knows what he believes and can convey it rather well,” he said.
Miller credited Palin’s endorsement during an interview with a local paper for raising his profile among voters. “I’m absolutely certain that was pivotal,” Miller said.
His friend Todd Palin, the husband of the former governor, sent out a rare e-mail right before the election asking for supporters to donate money to Miller’s campaign, saying, “I don’t typically send out emails asking people to support fundraising drives.”
Miller told TheDC earlier in August that he was confident that when people got to know him, they would fall into his camp. “People are fed up with the state of government,” he said then by phone, while driving in Alaska. “Once they hear they’ve got a good option to the business as usual crowd in D.C., they’re excited to vote for it.”
More than $550,000 spent by the Tea Party Express also helped him to do that. “Joe Miller needed help to make the battle of the airwaves more equitable. So we pumped several hundred thousand dollars into TV, cable, radio, newspaper and online advertising,” said Wierzbicki.
The group also spent about two weeks on the ground across Alaska, holding meet-and-greet events and rallies with Tea Party activists in places like Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla, Sitka, Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Homer and Kodiak.
DeSoto said the campaign was frustrated with some in the media because “things weren’t being reflected accurately,” in terms of how close they thought the primary would be. One example was during a nationally televised interview when the interviewer brought up the same poll from July showing Miller down 30 points.
“We were on Fox News the other day and we were surprised — you know, Fox News is normally thought of as somewhat conservative or certainly fair and balanced, and it’s not that it was a terrible interview — but the first thing they did, they had Joe up there…and the question asked to him was ‘do you think you have any chance based on this polling?’ And we were thinking, ‘what in the world are they doing?'”
Other polls — including a leaked poll the campaign received — showed the race much closer.
In November, Miller — or Murkowski if she is able to surmount her vote deficit and win the race — will face Democratic nominee Scott McAdams.
Wierzbicki said the Tea Party Express remains “cautiously optimistic” and isn’t celebrating a Miller victory just yet. “We’re keeping the champagne on ice for right now. Still a lot of votes to be counted, so we’re waiting to hear from the people of Alaska, and the votes they’ve cast that have yet to be counted, before declaring victory.”
Miller, who didn’t get to bed until about 6:30 a.m. Alaska time on election night after doing phone interviews, spent Wednesday resting at home in Fairbanks. But from the looks of his Twitter account, he appears confident about his chances.
He tweeted: “What’s the moose hunting like in the Beltway?”