Politics & Policy

Fighting for Alaska

Senatorial hopeful Joe Miller hopes that his campaign will be about more than tea-party buzz.

After toppling Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s GOP Senate primary, Joe Miller is in no mood to compromise. Nor, he says, are fellow tea-party favorites who have won primaries across the country. “The people being elected outside of the establishment, like me, are not going to be co-opted,” he predicts in an interview with National Review Online.

Miller, a Fairbanks attorney and Yale Law grad, touts his primary win as the latest example of Americans’ expressing their frustration with Washington. He urges Republican leaders to “catch the wave.” If they don’t, he warns, “they will not be able to bring the new faces into line.” His reasoning is simple: “We are being elected for a purpose: to transform the federal government, to get us away from the brink of bankruptcy. The leadership has to embrace that message or else there will be real problems.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), the Senate GOP leader, cannot bank on Miller’s support. “I’m taking a wait-and-see approach,” Miller says. Miller’s hesitation to embrace Washington, however, has not stopped Washington Republicans from embracing their party’s newest star.

Since he secured the GOP nomination last week, following a nerve-wracking count of absentee ballots, a handful of senators have reached out to him, Miller says, including John Cornyn (R., Texas), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee; Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), the GOP whip; Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Conservatives Fund; and John McCain (R., Ariz.), with whom he hopes to work on national-security issues. Miller says that if he makes it to the upper chamber, DeMint will be a key ally.

Still, not everyone is scrambling to assist the insurgent. Murkowski, for her part, has yet to endorse Miller. “We’re giving her some space,” he says. “She’ll come around in her own time. We certainly would like to have her support. We want all Republicans behind this candidacy.”

Regardless of when or if Murkowski comes onboard, Miller knows that he already has another high-profile Alaska Republican on his side: former governor Sarah Palin. Palin endorsed Miller early in the primary, a move he calls “critical” to his success. “I think the world of [the Palin family],” he says. “Their involvement in this race will remain up to them.” On September 11, Palin is reportedly joining Glenn Beck of Fox News in Anchorage for a rally. Will Miller join the pair? “There has been some contact [between camps],” he says, but he tells us that for the moment, he is unsure whether he will attend.

As much as he appreciates Palin’s support, Miller hopes that his campaign will be about more than tea-party buzz. “I want to go after federal dependency,” he says. Bringing that message to the 49th state, long reliant on federal dollars for infrastructure projects, is like ripping the bottle out of an overgrown baby’s hands. “We need leaders with the courage to confront the entitlement state,” he says. Though Alaskans have been recipients of federal handouts for decades, he reckons they “are attracted to the idea of becoming more independent and using their resource base to create jobs.”

Come November, Miller will face Democrat Scott McAdams, a little-known mayor from southern Alaska. “It’s going to be a hard-fought battle,” he says. “The liberal Left will pull out all the stops.” For now, polls show Miller holding onto an early lead: Rasmussen puts him up by six points and Public Policy Polling has him up by eight. “My message — increased power to Alaska and less dependency on the federal government — is not going to be watered down for the general election,” he pledges.

Indeed, even Miller’s whiskers will stay untouched. “I’ve had my beard ever since I got out of the military,” he says. “It’s not something that I grew for politics. It’s me, so like it or leave it, it’s going to stay.”

– Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.