Alaska candidates for U.S. Senate spent Labor Day weekend meeting voters and trading insults in what's promising to be a point-blank battle as each paints himself as the sensible alternative to the other guy's radical views or failed ideas.
Voters found Republican Joe Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams already on the campaign trail as the fall political season began across the country. Miller says he hit the Alaska State Fair in Palmer for the third straight day on Monday, while McAdams, who was at the fair earlier in the weekend, appeared in a Labor Day parade in Fairbanks.
On the sidelines: incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Republican who wasn't supposed to lose her primary to Miller in the first place. As Murkowski spent time with family in the Interior, an official with the Alaska Libertarian Party said her campaign met with the Libertarians over the weekend.
The topic: a slim but lingering chance that Murkowski could somehow rejoin the Senate race by trading places with the ALP candidate, David Haase. Party chairman Scott Kohlhaas said the meetings are leading up to a discussion with Murkowski herself if she decides she wants a spot on the party's ticket.
But it's unlikely Libertarian leaders -- who have disapproved of Murkowski's voting record in the past -- will allow her on the ballot before the Sept. 15 deadline, he said. "I tried to warn the Murkowski people that they're trying to climb Mount McKinley here ... it's probably impossible."
McAdams and Miller aren't waiting around to get started.
Speaking on a cell phone from Fairbanks, McAdams said "reasonable, independent and moderate people are frightened right now by the extremity of Joe Miller."
Miller, who was endorsed by the Tea Party Express and former Gov. Sarah Palin in his surprise primary victory, has called for big cuts in federal spending, phasing out government Medicare and Social Security, and getting rid of the federal Department of Education because it is not in the Constitution.
"His campaign is about becoming the male Sarah Palin and becoming a national media celebrity. Our campaign is about asking Alaskan voters to support us in November," said McAdams.
McAdams says he plans to run as a moderate and accused Miller of running a mean-spirited campaign against Murkowski.
Miller counters that his opponent clearly hasn't been paying attention. McAdams is ignoring a looming financial crisis in the country and his Senate bid "is about the tried and true failed polices of Obama," Miller said in a phone interview after spending his afternoon campaigning at the fair.
Miller says he favors increasing state control over Alaska's natural resources to reduce dependence on federal money. The suggestion that federal spending to Alaska would evaporate if he were elected is "crazy," Miller said. "We obviously fight as hard as we can for our fair share, but recognize that that share is ending -- whether we like it or not, bankruptcy is coming upon this country."
Miller compared McAdams to Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, whom Miller calls part of big-government big spending. "Sen. McAdams would be another Begich. ... You can expect additional fiscal insanity," Miller said.
Smack. Smack. Welcome to the next two months.
Things get more complicated if Murkowski somehow rejoins the race.
Murkowski campaign spokesman Steve Wackowski said Monday that Murkowski was hunting with her family and hard to reach. He couldn't comment on any talks between her supporters or campaign and the Libertarian party, he said.
"She has had a huge outpouring of support from all walks of life," Wackowski said.
Former state representative Andrew Halcro, a Murkowski ally, commissioned a poll by Dittman Research asking Alaskans how they felt about the major players in the Senate race. In poll results released Sept. 2, Dittman found that Murkowski had higher "favorable" ratings than Miller.
More than 60 percent of those polled were neutral on, or unfamiliar with, McAdams. The poll of 383 people was conducted Aug. 28 through Sept. 1.
An earlier Rasmussen Reports poll of 500 likely voters-- conducted just after Murkowski conceded -- showed Miller with a 6-point lead over McAdams.
Miller and McAdams both said they've held at least two official fund-raisers since the Aug. 24 primary.
In the primary, the Tea Party Express spent more than $500,000 on ads criticizing Murkowski. "I don't think they're coming back, but I don't know," Miller said Monday.
While Palin endorsed Miller and provided a prerecorded phone call to voters for his campaign, she did not appear at campaign stops or in commercials. Miller said he expects a similar level of involvement from Palin in the general election.