Washington — Joe Miller is on the Hill, and he doesn’t look too happy about it. As he enters National Review’s office to meet with the staff, his face is glacial, his red-and-white-striped tie an inch askew. His weary blue eyes complete the picture: This is somebody begrudgingly making the Washington rounds. Indeed, he’s just come from an interview with a national television network down the block, and all he has to show for it is a half-empty cup of soda from We, the Pizza — a hip eatery that peddles gourmet pies and “organic” values. As Miller finds a spot at the conference table, his wife, Kathleen, an easygoing schoolteacher and mother of eight, settles into a nearby chair.
Miller, who bears a striking resemblance to Chuck Norris, with his casually slicked-black hair, light beard, and Yoda-like seriousness, shrugs off inquiries about his visit to the hipster slice shop. Heavier things are on his mind. The 43-year-old West Point grad, who won a Bronze Star in the Persian Gulf War, is in the midst of a heated three-way battle for the U.S. Senate in Alaska — he’s facing not only Democrat Scott McAdams, but also current Republican senator Lisa Murkowski, who decided to pursue a write-in candidacy when Miller won the GOP primary — and in the campaign’s final days, he has no time for small talk.
Although he is officially in town to huddle with Republican leaders and raise coin, the Fairbanks attorney’s body language suggests that he’s ready to get out quick. Let’s talk business, he says in a gravelly Midwestern drawl. Miller, a Kansas native who moved to Alaska in 1994 after graduating from Yale Law School — “for the hunting and fishing” — is itching to get back to the Last Frontier. “I like Fairbanks, Alaska, far more than I do Washington,” he says. “I lived on the East Coast for seven years. I know what’s here and I’m not attracted to it, but I recognize that we need to change things.”
Should he win the seat, Miller pledges to be a different kind of Republican. “I’m not going to be a co-opted senator, I can tell you that much,” he begins. “That’s the mandate of Alaskans: to get things done and to change the direction of D.C.”
Nonetheless, he says he’s impressed by the party’s leadership and its potential incoming freshman class. “I think there’s an understanding that the mood of the nation has changed in such a way that there is not going to be toleration of business as usual. If that means shutting down the government, so be it. I mean, we’ll do what it takes,” he says. “I think that we will have enough like-minded people coming into D.C. that we’re actually going to be able to accomplish something.”
But is Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, open to the possibility of shutting down the federal government? “There was a comment made at breakfast this morning about shutting down the government, and he reacted in a positive way,” Miller says. “I’m not going to quote him, but I think that he recognizes that that’s on the table.”
A few months ago, Miller was a little-known lawyer on a quixotic quest, and would probably have laughed at the idea of being feted by Beltway Republicans. Then, of course, on a warm, late-August night, everything changed. Out of nowhere — most polls showed him trailing by double digits — Miller rocked the political world by toppling Murkowski, the 53-year-old incumbent, in the primary. Murkowski, who owns one of the state’s most venerable political names — her father appointed her to the seat when he was governor — was left in shock, her campaign flailing.
For Miller, that glorious primary night seems to be a bright, but fading, memory. Since then, he has been faced with a barrage of challenges.
When Murkowski threatened his chances by mounting her write-in campaign, GOP senators, painfully clubby, refused to knock her off of her plum post on the Energy Committee. They swear to Miller that they’re on his side, but to Miller, a man of few words, actions speak louder. “It was disappointing,” he says, flatly.
On the fundraising front, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which funnels national GOP dollars to hot races, has been encouraging, but Miller is hardly drowning in cash. “Our goal is $2 million,” he says. “I think that we’ll probably reach it.” According to the Anchorage Daily News, Murkowski has over $1 million on hand, and McAdams has raised more than $650,000 since the primary.
An aide standing off to the side interrupts. “We sent out an e-mail last evening that brought in $15,000 overnight,” he says, looking eagerly toward Miller. “Good,” Miller says, without looking up. “Fantastic.”