Alaska lawyer Joe Miller is confident that he can close the deal with voters in the final eight days of the unusual three-way Senate contest, although the Republican’s campaign team is aware that self-inflicted wounds have added to the challenge.
But Miller’s string of unforced campaign missteps might not yet be in the past, thanks to a state judge’s ruling that his previous employer, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, must release sealed employment records. Alaska media outlets sued to have the records released after Miller refused to do so on his own. The records’ release was delayed until Tuesday to allow time for any appeal.
An Alaska-based Republican operative familiar with Miller’s campaign strategy said the outcome of the race could be razor thin. But the source emphasized that the underlying campaign dynamics favor Miller and consist of taking the fight to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is running as a write-in candidate, and ignoring Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D).
“I think it’s pretty close,” the operative said. “We’re in uncharted territory in terms of how to accurately poll a credible, statewide write-in campaign.”
According to the most recent polls, Miller is in a dead heat with Murkowski, whom he narrowly defeated in the state’s August primary. McAdams is running third in the polls, though not out of contention. The RealClearPolitics.com average of all polls taken from Oct. 9 to Oct. 19 had Miller at 35.7 percent, Murkowski at 34.7 percent and McAdams at 25.3 percent.
The GOP operative said that Miller’s mistakes have helped to make the Alaska Senate race closer than it might have been otherwise. The strategist added that Miller’s missteps are the result of enduring intense media scrutiny and relentless campaign attacks from his opponents in a short time.
“Every candidate in every campaign has missteps in every race,” the operative said. “Joe’s had his and has been under a much larger microscope.”
Murkowski’s strategy, aside from a massive voter-education drive on how to write her name on the ballot, involves winning the middle. She is angling for GOP-leaning independents and moderate and business-minded Republicans by attempting to paint Miller as too extreme, while moving to siphon Democratic votes from McAdams by pushing a narrative that he can’t win and that she is the only candidate capable of stopping Miller.
Miller is focused on wooing Republicans and independents who are either supporting Murkowski or who might be inclined to vote for her. Miller views McAdams’ voters as unlikely to align with him and has decided not to attack the Democrat, figuring that it will only benefit Murkowski.
Miller is targeting that swath of conservative Alaska voters not affiliated with the GOP, while relying on the state Republican Party for institutional and operational support. Meanwhile, after weeks on the defensive, he has stepped up his attacks on Murkowski, most recently accusing her campaign of unlawful coordination with a third-party group.
“If we pull what should normally be the Republican nominee’s supporters, we’ll be in good shape,” the operative said.
Additionally, Miller believes the issues in this race are on his side.
The GOP operative said that Alaska voters are similar to those in other Republican-leaning states, which disapprove of President Barack Obama’s leadership, are concerned about the economy, and worried about government spending and the size of the federal deficit. Murkowski has argued that federal earmarks should continue.
The strategist said that Miller’s approach to these issues is resonating.
“For every campaign, including this one, the challenge is to stay focused, even when answering questions on things [Miller] doesn’t want to talk about,” the operative said.
In a statement provided to Roll Call for this story, Miller suggested that he always expected a competitive general election campaign, in part because of what he describes as the difficulty of running against the Washington, D.C., establishment.
However, Miller has received the staunch backing of GOP Senate leaders and the National Republican Senatorial Committee since winning his primary. The NRSC is running an independent expenditure advertisement on statewide television to boost his campaign and could launch a second spot this week.
“I always knew that running against the Washington establishment would not be easy. I didn’t decide to run for office because it would be easy, I decided to run because I saw that our nation was headed in the wrong direction and I care about the future of my children,” Miller said. “As I continue to campaign I plan to keep talking about the issues, that’s what Alaskans care about and that’s what they deserve to hear.”