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Alaska Senate race keeps surprises coming

'Tea party'-backed candidate Joe Miller's upset win in the GOP primary has incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski scrambling with a write-in effort — all of which has injected new life into the campaign of Democrat Scott McAdams.

October 20, 2010|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

Miller, a Fairbanks lawyer, has campaigned on a message of returning to strict constitutional government structures, ending "corrupt" earmarks that have sent millions of federal dollars to Alaska over the years, and rethinking programs such as Medicare, Social Security and unemployment.

Recent revelations that Miller's family accepted a range of government benefits, including agricultural subsidies, low-income medical benefits and unemployment, prompted Miller to announce that he would no longer discuss his personal life.

"We've drawn a line in the sand. You can ask me about background, you can ask about personal issues — I'm not going to answer," he said.

The editor of the online news site Alaska Dispatch, Tony Hopfinger, was trying so hard to get an answer from the Republican nominee on whether he had been threatened with termination as a part-time borough attorney in Fairbanks for allegedly using office equipment to campaign against the state GOP leader — a charge Miller has denied — that he confronted Miller after a campaign event Sunday night at an Anchorage school.

Miller's security guards moved in, shoved Hopfinger against the wall and handcuffed him, detaining him until Anchorage police arrived and released him. Miller said in a statement that Hopfinger had "made threatening gestures" and "appeared irrational, angry and potentially violent." But Hopfinger said he was simply a reporter approaching with a question. "We're not going to stop asking questions just because he doesn't want to take them," he said in an interview.

McAdams says his line in the sand is Miller.

"I believe Joe Miller and the Tea Party Express and the views of that far-right-wing branch of the Republican Party are so extreme that even most mainline Republicans don't recognize their ideology," he said in an interview.

Tea Party Express leaders say they plan a full-court press against Murkowski, even as the Miller campaign has sought to distance itself from the "tea party" brand.

"We're not the tea party candidate, so avoid that language," campaign manager Robert Campbell said in a Sept. 18 e-mail obtained by Mudflats, a liberal Alaska political blog.

But Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer appeared undeterred, saying the organization was running TV and radio ads and planned to oversee a get-out-the-vote telephone program.

"She didn't just lose. She was fired.... She needs to put on her big-girl panties and get over it," Kremer said of the incumbent at a phone-a-thon the group hosted for Miller.

Murkowski responded last week with her biggest gun: a television endorsement filmed by popular longtime U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens before he was killed in a plane crash.

Stevens' voice wafting in from the grave seems strangely unstrange in this unorthodox campaign, which has some businessmen worried that a vote for Republican nominee Miller — a hard-liner against federal funds in a state where as many as one in three jobs rely on them — might be bad for commerce.

But Juneau Chamber of Commerce President-elect Tim McLeod, a utility executive, worries that if he votes for Murkowski, who "has done a good job for us," he might inadvertently help the Democrat get elected.

"The situation is very unusual," he said.

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