Key Tea Party backers still supportive of Joe Miller fighting election certification, one says Murkowski should be punished

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Two key Tea Party-affiliated supporters of Republican Joe Miller say they still have his back.

Both Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and the president of FreedomWorks, an organizer of Tea Party activists, are still supporting Miller’s decision to fight the certification of write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski’s victory in the Alaska Senate race.

Matt Kibbe, who runs the day-to-day operation of Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, said in a phone interview that “at this point, I’m behind [Miller],” though he acknowledged that at “some point [Miller] needs to accept reality.”

“I do think it’s questionable how they changed the rules in the middle of this count,” Kibbe said, referencing one of Miller’s complaints about election officials’ behavior during the write-in vote process. “There’s really not a point of establishing election rules if you’re going to change them every time your candidate isn’t winning.”

After Miller defeated Murkowski, a sitting U.S. senator, in the Republican primary this year, Murkowski staged a largely unprecedented write-in drive for the general election.

Vote counts in that election show her leading Miller by about 10,000 votes, but a federal judge stopped the certification of the election last week for Murkowski after Miller raised questions about the write-in ballot review process. Murkowski has declared victory in the race.

If Murkowski wins, Kibbe suggested that Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and the Republican leadership should find a way to punish her, perhaps through committee assignments, “for splitting the team in half” and running as an independent. Her decision to run as an independent is a dangerous precedent, Kibbe suggested, that could lead to Democratic victories in the future.

“If he doesn’t do that,” Kibbe said, “it strikes me that he’s sending a signal to Tea Partiers in 2012 that if they don’t like the results in the primaries, they might as well just run as an independent or Tea Party candidate.”

Kibbe often makes the argument that “it doesn’t make any sense to go third party because third party loses,” and the more practical way for Tea Party activists to get involved is through a “take over” of the GOP.

He also pointed out the irony in how despite all the “hand wringing” from “the Republican establishment about whether or not Tea Partiers would split the vote and go third party, the only noticeable cases where it happened were in Florida where Charlie Crist, the Republican establishment candidate split the party, and Alaska, where Lisa Murkowski, once she lost based on the rules of the game decided to go independent.”

Another kingmaker this year of Tea Party-backed candidates, DeMint, also “still supports Miller” and his legal challenges to the vote count, spokesman Matt Hoskins said in an e-mail to The Daily Caller.

Amy Kremer, the chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, another key backer of Miller, did not return a request seeking comment.

The Alaska state GOP has called on Miller to drop out, and national Republicans in Washington appear to be staying out of the battle as much as they can.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, suggested the organization is employing a hands-off approach. “We believe this is a matter for the people of Alaska to decide and look forward to a resolution in the near future,” he said.