Senate race tests tea party movement

August 24, 2010 

UPDATE: Joe Miller has the early lead in the Republican race for U.S. Senate.

With 119 of 438 precincts reporting, Miller, a self-styled "constitutional conservative," 50.7 percent of the early vote. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski had 49.2 percent. He had about 550 more votes than Murkowski in early vote results.

For the Democrats, Scott McAdams led with 49.46 percent of the early vote.

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Alaska's GOP primary Tuesday promised to be a test of the political power of Sarah Palin and the tea party movement in the state, with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski hoping to turn back the anti-incumbent wave in a state heavily reliant on the federal government to run.

Murkowski has proudly touted her seniority, after eight years in office, and said her roles on the appropriations and energy committees -- panels of particular import to this resource-dependent state -- puts herself in a strong position to ensure Alaskans' voices are heard.

But self-described "constitutional conservative" Joe Miller has sought to paint the better-known, better-financed Murkowski as too liberal, a late-addition to the conservative chorus and part of the problem in an out-of-control Washington.

He's gotten high-profile help in his first statewide run for public office, notably from Palin, who's had a complicated past with the Murkowski family, and the California-based Tea Party Express, which crisscrossed Alaska, hosting at-times sparsely attended rallies and bombarding the airwaves with ads attacking Murkowski and her record.

And after keeping a low profile for much of the race, Palin, in the waning days, recorded a robocall for Miller, repeating a claim about Murkowski's position on repealing the federal health care overhaul that Murkowski has called false, and touting Miller as a "man of the people" on her Facebook page.

"Let's raise $1,000 for each of the 30 years this senate seat has been locked in by the Murkowski family," Palin wrote Friday in a message signed by her and her husband.

Palin trounced Murkowski's father, Frank, in the 2006 gubernatorial primary -- the race that would launch her national political career. Last year, she said she'd raise money for Lisa Murkowski, and even contributed to her campaign, quieting widespread speculation that Palin would challenge Murkowski for the seat. But the women have clashed on issues like the health care debate, though they've denied any bad blood between them.

Murkowski has fought back, particularly in the closing weeks, after focusing much of the campaign on her experience and record. A radio ad, on the election's eve, calls Miller out as twisting the truth about Murkowski's position on the federal health care overhaul. Miller has cast Murkowski as a flip-flopper on the issue of repeal -- a claim Murkowski vehemently denies, pointing to her record for backup proof.

"Alaskans deserve to know the honest truth," she said, "and they haven't gotten it from Miller."

Miller has stood by his comments.

And after polls closed Tuesday, he said he had no regrets about how the campaign was run. He also said it had been an all-out effort since he announced in April -- and that he couldn't have asked for more from the volunteers and others who helped him.

"I don't think any more could've been done" than was, said Miller, who said he'd consider a win for him a win for "constitutionalism" in the state.

Lindsey Vaughan, 29, said she'd been torn between the two but settled on Murkowski, feeling Miller hadn't accurately portrayed Murkowski's record.

"I kind of agreed with some of what Joe Miller was saying; less government is good," she said outside an Anchorage polling place Tuesday. "But transparency and honesty are important, too."

Meg Halsey, 45, said she also was "turned off by some of his campaigning methods."

Plus, "seniority matters," she said. "We're kidding ourselves if we think otherwise."

But voter Silvia Avey said she believed Miller would "go to bat for Alaska."

"Even if he wants less government, I feel he is going to strive for Alaska when he's there," she said. "I'm not saying that Lisa doesn't, but Lisa has not proven to me that she is really for us."

On the Democratic ticket, Scott McAdams, Frank J. Vondersaar and Jacob Seth Kern are running. Fredrick "David" Haase is running as a Libertarian.

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