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Alaska’s Miller Adopts the Tone of a General Election Candidate

Republican Joe Miller is locked in a close primary in the Senate race in Alaska, but he sounded much like a general election candidate in a television appearance Sunday, discussing his stances on Social Security and federal funding for Alaska.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the lawyer credited endorsements by former Republican Govs. Sarah Palin of Alaska and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas with propelling him in his upstart challenge of Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Alaska Senate GOP primary. Miller led Murkowski by about 1,700 votes with all precincts reporting and several thousand absentee and questionable ballots left to count following Tuesday’s contest.

Miller stood by his position that Social Security needs to be reformed and possibly needs to be privatized, but he promised that he would support a continuation of the program for those Americans who have paid into the system.

“We’ve said consistently throughout this race, if you paid into the system, if you’re dependent on the system, we’ve got to get the fiscal house in order so that we can continue to pay those benefits,” Miller said. “But to suggest that there is nothing that can be done … ignores the fact that the trust fund is empty, it’s full of IOUs … and it would be incredibly irresponsible for us to sit back and say this is something that shouldn’t be addressed.”

Democrats are charging that Republicans will gut Social Security and Medicare if midterm voters restore them to power in November, contending that candidates such as Miller are tea party extremists who are dividing the GOP. With polls showing Democrats in trouble, the party’s strategy has been to tie the GOP to the tea party and paint Republicans as too extreme to be considered a viable alternative.

“It’s hard to know where the Republican Party ends and the tea party begins,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), the chief deputy whip for House Democrats, said on “Face the Nation.” Republicans have “struggled to elect — and actually have not been able to successfully elect — their moderate candidates, the mainstream candidates. The tea party candidates seem to be winning because the tea party Republicans are energized in their primaries. So, it’s really caused, I think, a pretty difficult problem for them going into the November election, because they have candidates like Miller who are on the extreme right-wing fringe.”

Miller dismissed the extremist label, saying if his views on moving America back to a more “constitutionally” based government are extreme, the Founding Fathers must be extreme as well.

Perhaps to demonstrate a sense of moderation, he said that although he supports weaning Alaska off the immense amount of federal funding it receives every year, he would pursue that course gradually, while also moving to give his state more ownership and control over its land and natural resources.

“I think the answer to this is to basically transfer the responsibilities and power of the government back to the states and the people,” Miller said. “That is really the only answer out of this crisis. And for Alaska, that means our resource base. It’s not a situation where you just yank the financial plug.”

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, defended his party’s candidates and argued that voters would reject a White House and Democratic Congress that have lurched to the “far left.”

“There is a reaction to that,” Barbour said. “They’re concerned with where our country is being driven by the Democratic majority.”

Miller “is right if what he’s saying is our country has got to spend less money,” Barbour added.

Wasserman Schultz said the “driving issue for the November election” would be “jobs and the economy,” and she argued that there is a lot of evidence that the economy has begun to turn around.

The election will be a choice between “right-wing, extreme Republican candidates who want to take us back to where we were when President Bush was in office,” and “moderate and centrist” Democrats, she said.

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