Misconduct revelations against Alaska tea party candidate may favor Murkowski

The 2010 election brought scores of tea party-backed candidates into Washington.
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 27, 2010; 11:56 AM

The release of documents late Tuesday showing that Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller of Alaska lied about his misconduct while serving as a government attorney in Fairbanks delivered yet another blow to a tea party-backed candidate who was considered a shoo-in just two months ago, when he defeated incumbent Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary.

Now, the race is shaping up to be a contest between Murkowski, who is mounting a write-in campaign, and Democrat Scott McAdams, the little-known mayor of Sitka. Both Murkowski and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is backing Miller, are running TV ads going after McAdams - strong evidence that both camps now view him as a real threat.

The revelations, reported by the Associated Press and the Web site Alaska Dispatch based on public documents that a judge ordered released on Tuesday, show that Miller was caught using colleagues' computers for political business and that he lied about it repeatedly before admitting the wrongdoing. Miller was conducting his own poll in an effort to oust a state GOP chairman, and he used his colleagues' computers to vote in the poll, then erased their computers' caches to hide what he did.

"I was beyond stupid," Miller wrote in a letter of apology included in the documents. He was suspended for three days without pay in March 2008.

Miller's candidacy has suffered from a series of damaging headlines in recent days, including an incident last week in which a Miller-hired security guard handcuffed a reporter after he tried to ask the candidate a question. It is perhaps the most dramatic example in a volatile political year in which little-known candidates have upset the establishment in race after race - only to stumble later

In Kentucky this week, a volunteer for tea-party backed Republican Rand Paul was videotaped pressing his shoe onto the head of a liberal protester. In Colorado and Delaware, Republican candidates Christine O'Donnell and Ken Buck are under fire for denying that the First Amendment's establishment clause requires a separation of church and state.

Such moments are giving Democrats hope that what few undecided voters remain could turn away from Republicans in the closer races across the nation.

"Our challenge this cycle has been to overcome a corrosive political environment," said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "The Republican challenge has been to overcome bad candidates running bad campaigns. In state after state, Republicans nominated a less viable general election candidate and that's more on display than ever in these final days of the campaign."

Alaska might be one exception to the potential for Democrats to benefit, with Murkowski's write-in campaign picking up steam. Although both Republican and Democratic strategists said recent polls show Miller's numbers dropping quickly, it is Murkowski who is benefiting more from Miller's fall, they said.

Murkowski jumped on the latest Miller revelations with this statement: "The bottom line is Joe cheated, he lied, tried to cover it up, lied again, then finally got caught and had to admit it, just as he lied to Alaskans when he initially denied any problems with his employment at the Borough, claiming his record was 'exceptional' and 'second to none.' "

One Republican strategist expressed frustration at how effectively Murkowski's campaign was operating now. If she'd worked this hard over the summer, Miller never would have won the primary, and today's headlines could have been avoided, said the strategist, who requested anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak publicly about internal polling.

A Murkowski primary win might even have changed the fate of Delaware's primary just three weeks later by dampening the tea party's momentum. There, tea party-backed O'Donnell beat U.S. Rep. Mike Castle - virtually eliminating the GOP's chances of picking up the former seat of Vice President Biden. Castle had been viewed as the certain winner against Democratic nominee Chris Coons, but Coons is now polling far ahead of O'Donnell in all surveys.

In Alaska, Miller's most ardent supporters say they are unfazed. Amy Kremer, who heads the national group Tea Party Express, said via e-mail when asked whether the group would pull its support for Miller, "Absolutely not! As a matter of fact, we are going back up on the air for Joe Miller because he is the only candidate addressing the important economic issues facing America while Lisa Murkowski is following the Democrat game plan around the country of only making vicious attacks on her opponent."

In addition, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin will appear Thursday with Miller at a rally in Anchorage.

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