The Tea Party Express, fresh off an election victory in Utah, promised Wednesday that Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski would be its next victim. The group's promise of big spending to defeat her is intensifying interest in Murkowski challenger Joe Miller, a strict Constitutionalist whose views are unknown to most voters in Alaska.
Miller says he believes the federal Department of Education should be abolished and that, over the long term, the government should stop offering Social Security and Medicare. His campaign message to Republican primary voters shouts of the contrast between him and Murkowski, saying she is for abortion rights, supported a Wall Street bailout and is not in favor of repealing the "Obamacare" federal health law.
The Murkowski campaign accuses Miller of distorting her record, and the senator is clearly positioning herself for conservative voters in the primary. Murkowski gave a speech on the U.S. Senate floor Wednesday calling for repeal of the health care law and the first radio ad of her campaign talks about her votes against the economic stimulus, the health care law and funding for the community organizing group Acorn.
"We need to keep fighting to lower taxes, to shrink the size of government and to push back against the federal government's assault on Alaska," Murkowski said in the ad.
Miller said Wednesday the ad isn't honest. "She's voted like a liberal the last six years and now she wants to recast herself as a conservative," Miller said. It's the opposite tack of the Democrat running for Murkowski's seat, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, who says she began her political career as a moderate but went right.
Murkowski needs to beat Miller in the Aug. 24 Republican primary before she can meet McAdams in the November general election. Miller has the backing of former Gov. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express, which says it will have staff in Alaska and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost his campaign.
Candidates supported by the Tea Party Express have done well in Lower 48 primaries. Mike Lee, a U.S. Senate candidate backed by the group in Utah, narrowly won that state's Republican primary on Tuesday and is now the favorite to win the general election.
The Tea Party Express sent out a victory message on Wednesday saying "you're next Lisa Murkowski," and said it's time to retire her like a lame race horse.
Miller said he's the underdog up against a Murkowski campaign chest of more than $2 million.
Most of her money came from outside Alaska, he said. Asked about the promised hundreds of thousands to help his campaign coming from the California-based Tea Party Group, Miller said he has not tallied what states its contributions come from. "They're an independent group, they're going to do what they're going to do," Miller said. "It's outside of the control or limits of this campaign."
Miller is a Fairbanks attorney who is a former acting state District Court judge and federal magistrate judge. He spoke repeatedly in a Wednesday interview of his view that the nation is saddling future generations with too much debt and has reached the point of a potential sovereign debt crisis, like Greece.
"Nobody has the guts to stand up and say enough is enough, we've got to change the course of government," he said. "And the course of government is changed not just by limiting expenditures but also limiting our perception of what the role of the federal government really is."
He said there's nothing in the Constitution that provides for a U.S. Department of Education, and the function should be left to the states. He spoke of phasing out Social Security.
Miller said there's a contract between the government and people on Social Security who have contributed to the system and they should be paid. "But I think in the long term the answer is to get the government out of it, to privatize it," he said.
Asked how, he said the government would need to talk about that and consider how the tax system could encourage private investment in retirement programs. Social Security is in trouble under government management and seniors will suffer if there comes a time the nation can't pay its obligations, he said.
Miller has the same position in favor of phasing out the Medicare health insurance program.
"There needs to be an orderly transition. The government has broken everything that it's had its finger in," Miller said.
Murkowski was on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon and not available for an interview, her staff said. But she will be in Alaska for campaign events this weekend, likely hammering on her conservative bona fides as she prepares to face a Republican party primary that's closed to Democratic voters.
"Lisa Murkowski, a conservative record of protecting Alaska, fighting against government overreach and out-of-control spending," begins her first campaign ad.