Money, of course, isn’t Miller’s only issue. In recent days, Miller has been called a hypocrite — a frustrating charge for a man whose campaign is framed as a fight against politics as usual. It has been reported that Kathleen, who worked for her husband when he was a part-time federal magistrate, picked up unemployment checks after she left the office. For Miller, who has harshly criticized the federal government’s role in shelling out unemployment benefits, it was an unwelcome news blip.
Other distractions have bubbled up. Miller’s recent comments about the federal minimum wage (he says that it is “not within the scope of the powers of the federal government”) have become cable-news fodder. So too have e-mails from Todd Palin, the husband of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, one of Miller’s earliest supporters. In the leaked correspondence, Palin, a longtime friend of Miller’s, chides the candidate for not fully embracing a potential presidential run by his wife: “Sarah put her ass on the line for Joe and yet he can’t answer a simple question.”
Todd Palin, for his part, has swatted away at the leak. “There’s no story here except the fact that the press put our personal e-mails online again,” he said in an e-mail to the Weekly Standard
. “My family has worked hard in supporting Joe Miller, so when I heard he’d said something less than supportive of my wife’s efforts, I responded. But it turns out we’d gotten our wires crossed and Joe hadn’t said anything like what I’d been told.”
Still, such episodes have caused giggles among members of the Washington press corps, many of whom, as we speak, are tucking into braised-pulled-pork pizzas down the street. To many of them, Miller is nothing more than a Tea Party woodsman — just another tough-talking conservative who got lucky and won a primary a lá Sharron Angle, Rand Paul, and Carl Paladino. Miller, sitting across from me in his neatly creased gray suit, wants to chip away at that calcifying narrative.
The press, Miller says, has consistently misrepresented his campaign. “They try to plead ignorance, but it has been a consistent barrage from virtually every newspaper in our state against our campaign,” he says. “I don’t want to ascribe motivation, but I can tell you that the bias is transparent, and it’s unfortunate.”
It’s a tight race, and he has little room for error. A Rasmussen survey from mid-September had Miller up by 15 points on Murkowski, but she has gained momentum in recent weeks. A CNN poll from late September has Miller leading by just two points over Murkowski, 38 percent to 36 percent, with McAdams at 22 percent.
“We feel pretty secure,” Miller says, reflecting on the polls. Rasmussen, he says, is the “better guide to where we’re at,” since that survey took into account the fact that Murkowski is not actually on the ballot —that voters have to scribble in her long surname by hand.
Miller sees Murkowski as a lost politician, an entrenched senator in search of a way to maintain her grasp on power. “She is between a rock and a hard place now,” he says. “During the primary, she tried to tell the voters that she’s this right-wing conservative, when of course her record doesn’t reflect that. And now she’s made this radical move to the left. She announces her candidacy a couple of weeks ago, and she’s surrounded by Democrats and regional-native corporations [advocacy groups that represent Alaska’s indigenous population]. Her message is reflecting those who are supporting her at this moment.”
Despite Alaska’s tendency in the past to elect pols whose prime focus is collecting and distributing federal pork — think Rep. Don Young or the late senator Ted Stevens — Miller is adamant that the state’s politics are changing for the better. “There is recognition of where this country’s been, and people understand that we’re nearing bankruptcy,” he says. “They understand that the numbers are so enormous that if we don’t do something now, then we’re going to be buried under it.”
“At the end of the day, a state that heavily depends upon federal funding, as far as economic activity goes, is going to have to find something else to create jobs and to keep the state moving forward,” Miller explains. The way forward, he hopes, will lie in Alaska’s abundant fuel resources. “That is the argument that was used at statehood,” Miller says. “We have the ability to create an independent economy through our natural-resource base. But, of course, the federal government, it seems, at every turn, has restricted our ability to use those resources. But those are the only options we have: Our human resources and natural resources. Alaskans understand that they need a fighter to get those things accomplished.”