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Race on to fund Senate campaign blitz

Erika Bolstad

WASHINGTON -- With just under a month left until election day, the three major candidates for U.S. Senate in Alaska are furiously raising money to have enough cash to buy the kind of advertising they need to get the attention of voters.

It's a daunting task for all three: Joe Miller, a Republican newcomer; Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a sitting senator who's running a write-in campaign; and Scott McAdams, a Democratic mayor who until recently was little-known outside Sitka.

Murkowksi, who raised $5.3 million in her 2004 Senate bid and $2.9 million so far this election cycle, has seen some of her traditional sources of money dry up now that she's running as a write-in and no longer has the support of fellow Senate Republicans.

Miller's campaign isn't saying exactly how much money he raised on his swing last week through the nation's capital, but if his well-funded primary race is any indication, he'll end up raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from political action committees and outside groups.

But the biggest surprise might be McAdams, who announced Saturday he had raised more than $650,000 over the past 30 days -- a feat he said in a press release shows he has "McMemtum."

"I haven't taken trips to Washington, D.C., and I haven't had big dollar dinners with corporate donors," he said in a swipe at his opponents.

This election, outside groups are spending millions of dollars not only in Alaska's Senate race but in other parts of the country. They're aided in part by court decisions that allow direct political spending by corporations, unions and other organizations.

"There are just a number of outside groups spending six and seven and by the end of the day, eight figures on independent expenditures and outside communications," said Dave Levinthal, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics. "It speaks to the political atmosphere that now exists. There are just more avenues of money through which to drive influence."

So far, Miller is largely the beneficiary of such influence.

One such political action group, the California-based Tea Party Express, spent as much as $600,000 on Miller's campaign during the primary and has pledged to return to town for the general election. Miller also has the aid of the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that has promised to spend "whatever it takes" to help him defeat McAdams and Murkowski.

SUPPORT FROM REPUBLICANS

Miller, who held a series of fundraisers this week while he was in Washington to meet with top Republican leaders, has focused on raising money since Murkowski launched her write-in bid against him. Until Saturday, the entry page to his campaign website was more of a fundraising portal than an informational site -- there was even a spot for potential contributors to enter their credit card information.

He's raised roughly $450,000 online since Murkowksi made her write-in announcement Sept. 17, Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto said. Since the primary, federal election disclosures show that Miller has received $117,156 in support from Sen. Jim DeMint's political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund. The South Carolina Republican so far has backed Miller and other tea party-affiliated candidates.

DeMint on Wednesday was among about a dozen GOP senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who attended a fundraiser on Miller's behalf. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee wouldn't say how much money the event raised.

As the campaign enters its final 30-day stretch this week, Miller's main primary backers, the Tea Party Express, will be back in town to unveil a new TV and radio campaign against Murkowski. They'll also be sponsoring a two-hour radio program opposing Murkowski's write-in campaign on KBYR 700 AM. Federal election reports show the group paid the station $1,000 last week.

The Western Representation political action committee, which is closely aligned with the Tea Party Express, has set its own goal of spending $100,000 on Miller's behalf, said spokesman Bryan Shroyer. They've been spending heavily on radio advertising, including a spot calling Murkowksi a "spoiled child," which aired right after she entered the race as a write-in candidate.

Although Miller appears to have the edge with outside groups, both of his competitors also have healthy finances. Murkowski launched her write-in bid with $1 million still in the bank, and the campaign has done well in its online fundraising since then, Murkowski said. She said she's encountered a number of people who say they've never donated to a political campaign before hers.

"Each one of those is a very committed Alaska voter who's going to make sure they get that process right, in filling in the oval and writing in my name," she said.

Murkowski has long raised money outside Alaska, but in this election she and McAdams are emphasized their in-state fundraising as a contrast to Miller's out-of-state support.

"Scott's not been to Washington, D.C., he's not been to Seattle, he's not been to California," said McAdams spokeswoman Heather Handyside, referring to some of the money raised for his opponents in other parts of the country.

DeMint, exiting the Capitol Hill fundraiser, said he saw no reason for Miller to be embarrassed by the money-raising trip out of Alaska in the midst of the campaign.

"I think a couple of days out of two years is not going to taint him too bad," DeMint said, adding jokingly: "He needs to come up here and measure the curtains."

That joke came shortly before Joe Miller boasted on the social networking website Twitter that he ought to do some house hunting, pick out office furniture and look for a name plaque for his door. The campaign later deleted the tweets and blamed the gaffe on a volunteer.

Murkowski's campaign has already lost the backing of Republican senators and doesn't expect to see the kind of outside money Miller has been attracting.

"Right now, we stand alone," said Murkowski's campaign spokesman, Steve Wackowski.

However, the Murkowski campaign will have the endorsement -- which comes with money -- of several unions within Alaska, Wackowski said. She already got an endorsement from the board of the Alaska Federation of Natives, and direct help from one Native corporation: Shee Atika, which spent $15,649 on full-page newspaper advertisements in support of Murkowski in five Alaska cities, including $7,150 in the Anchorage Daily News.

McAdams' campaign also got a boost from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Handyside wouldn't disclose the exact numbers, which will be released in the Oct. 15 campaign disclosure filings, but McAdams told supporters in Juneau that the DSCC had given him $42,000.

All this money means voters will be saturated with campaign advertising in the weeks leading up to the election. Miller has filmed television commercials, McAdams has two on the air already, and Murkowski's campaign is considering airing ads taped on her behalf by Sen. Ted Stevens before his death.

Alaska Politics blog
By ERIKA BOLSTAD
ebolstad@adn.com