Joe Miller, the tea party Republican from Alaska, spoke to a room full of Libertarians on Saturday about commonality and shared ideals as fervently as any politician hitting the campaign trail, but said he still hasn’t decided whether he will run for office again.
As his fellow Republicans, including Sarah Palin, gathered for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference just outside Washington, D.C., Miller showed up at the Best Western Golden Lion Hotel in Anchorage as a guest speaker at the Alaska Libertarian Party Convention.
Miller, who lost to write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 Senate election, wouldn't say if he's running in 2014, but rumors are swirling he's gearing up to take on incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Begich.
Next year’s elections “will be a referendum on government control,” Miller said Saturday. “In 2014, there’ll be a resurgence of those looking for liberty.”
Mark Fish, chair of the Alaska Libertarian Party and a friend of Miller’s, invited the Republican to speak at Saturday’s convention. A room of about 30 baby-boomers and a few younger Libertarians sat around white-clothed tables, speaking of ineffective incumbent lawmakers and the need to change the direction of America, sentiments Miller echoed during his speech.
Miller also touched on gun control and, more specifically, the government's alleged preparations for civil war. But despite being in a room packed with Second Amendment enthusiasts, some who often visibly display that enthusiasm, no guns sat atop the white cloth. Instead, semi-formally dressed attendants simply ate from a buffet.
After inquiring as to whether there were any Alaska media members in the crowd and brandishing a pair of silver handcuffs, Miller said outright that he hadn’t agreed to speak at the convention for political reasons. He is uncertain he will run in 2014, he told the Libertarians.
After his speech and outside the confines of the Golden Lion’s second-floor conference room, Miller told reporters he was “aggressively pursuing his options.” He hasn’t planned a future announcement, and he’s definitely still a Republican, he said.
Miller may be a Republican, but he seemed at home in front of the Alaska Libertarians, a political group that he shares many of the same views with. And in many ways, building bonds with the Libertarians is classic Miller, who has worked the grassroots of his party in Alaska, rather than the old-guard Republicans -- perhaps a tactic he's modeled after Sarah Palin, who rose to the top with a similar strategy in 2005-06.
"I’m here because we have commonality. I see more from a Libertarian standpoint,” he said, “but we have to stand behind candidates that share the same values. We cannot fracture into small groups and expect change to happen.”
Voters need to form a resolute front and stand firm against “establishment politicians,” he added. “A healthy distrust of the government is key, and I’m sure that’s an idea that’s not alien to Libertarians.”
But don’t call it a tea party comeback just yet. If Miller is running for Senate next year, will his failed 2010 bid come back to haunt him?
Miller, 45, was backed as the tea party favorite in 2010 when he ran against incumbent Republican Sen. Murkowski. As Murkowski and the state of Alaska were still in shock after a tragic plane crash that killed their beloved Ted Stevens a couple weeks earlier, the primary elections unfolded in late August 2010.
With that dark cloud hanging over Alaska, Miller toppled Murkowski to the surprise of wonks from the Last Frontier to the Beltway. But what happened next would in many ways cast doubt on Miller's political future -- a mess of events, many of which were inflicted.
During the lead-up to the 2010 general election, Miller faced intense scrutiny over his past, including a lawsuit launched by Alaska Dispatch to have records released from when he was a part-time attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Meantime, Murkowski had jumped back into the race as a write-in candidate.
Between unflattering revelations of Miller's past -- such as him losing his government attorney job for using his co-workers' computers in some strange ploy to help topple the Alaska Republican Party chairman -- and the handcuffing of Alaska Dispatch's editor at a town hall event, Miller's D.C. dreams began to evaporate in the last weeks before the election.
Whether the drama of his last run for office will taint his future political ambitions is anybody's guess.
Politico sources claim Miller is already meeting with social conservative activists and gun-rights groups in Washington. He’s held meetings with tea party senators, such as Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican senator from Kentucky who on Saturday won 25 percent of the vote in CPAC’s presidential straw poll.
Last week, a Miller spokesman said he wouldn't talk to Dispatch about Miller's plans for 2014, citing ongoing litigation between Alaska Dispatch and Miller. (Alaska Dispatch prevailed in its 2010 lawsuit to get the Fairbanks North Star Borough to release Miller's records, but he dragged out the litigation afterwards. Now a state judge is reviewing whether Miller should pay Dispatch's attorney fees.)
Miller may have had a tumultuous foray into politics so far, but he has reinvented himself in some ways, too. And that was evident Saturday, both in his humorous nod to the media by dangling a set of handcuffs during his speech and actually taking the time to answer reporters’ questions afterwards.
A month before the website overhaul, Miller put his federal campaign committee, Joe Miller for U.S. Senate, to bed. He filed paperwork to officially terminate it and transferred its remaining $435,459 to a new federal committee, Citizens for Joe Miller. “The return of Joe Miller” has been predicted since earlier this year.
He’ll likely face a crowded field of Alaska Republican opponents. Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, for instance, announced in December he was forming an exploratory committee to consider a run, but has indicated he will withdraw from the race if Gov. Sean Parnell decides to run.
Politico asked Murkowski whether she’d back Miller if he won the 2014 Republican primary.
“I just don’t see him becoming the nominee,” she said. “I think all you have to do is go back to the elections. … Let’s just say that two years ago is a relatively short time in political life.”
Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com