JUNEAU -- GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller told a crowd at the state Republican Party convention Friday that if he loses the August primary, he may not support the winner.
Miller drew strong tea party and far-right support when he beat incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 Republican primary. But he then lost to Murkowski after she launched a write-in campaign in November.
Miller said at a forum Friday at the Republican state convention that his GOP primary opponents this time around, Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan, hadn't given him the support he deserved as the nominee in 2010.
The three candidates had been asked what they would do to support the winner of the August primary. Both Treadwell and Sullivan pledged their backing, though they didn't give specific examples. Miller wouldn't.
"When we make such a commitment, it takes a certain baseline of trust," Miller said, referring to the 2010 campaign. "Without that baseline of trust, I cannot make such a commitment."
Speaking with reporters after the forum, Miller refused to say whether his answer meant that he would consider running as an independent in the general election if Republican voters don't pick him in August. He published an opinion piece in Politico on Thursday that said, "the suggestion that I intend to run as an Independent is no more than a rumor."
Republican leaders here are anxious to move past the discord in the state GOP that surfaced at the 2012 convention, when a big turnout from tea party members and Ron Paul supporters helped overthrow the existing leadership.
The new leaders elected in 2012, however, were ousted last year, and many of the attendees of that year's convention didn't travel to Juneau this time around.
Miller still showed up, but he acknowledged in his opening remarks that he was addressing a skeptical audience, which numbered 200 people.
"It's good to see many of my good friends here, and a few others," he said. After a pause, he added: "Hope springs eternal."
The three candidates were each given 10 minutes at the start of the forum to deliver speeches about their campaigns, then had 60 seconds to answer a series of questions from moderator Ben Brown, the communications coordinator for Capital City Republicans, who was standing at a podium bedecked with posters of the late GOP Sen. Ted Stevens. One showed Stevens holding a hunting rifle, with a caption: "Big shoes to fill."
Treadwell, speaking first, spent about three minutes of his speech attacking incumbent Sen. Mark Begich before describing his own personal and political background and his platform.
He took aim at federal spending and federal land management, using Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as an example. Bundy has drawn admiration from conservatives for his fight with the federal government over keeping his cattle on public land, though racially charged comments he made last month drew condemnation from several leading Republicans.
"This guy's like Joe the Plumber. The fact is that we've got to get a new regime with federal lands," Treadwell said after the forum. "I don't know what he said about race issues, and I don't support that."
Sullivan, speaking next, spent much of his time contrasting himself with Begich rather than comparing himself to his two Republican primary opponents.
"We must stand together to achieve a goal that is much greater than petty politics, or even any one of us," he said. "Ultimately we stand together on core convictions, such as the urgent need for fundamental change in Washington."
Like Treadwell, Sullivan touched on Alaska Republican issues like land and resource management and energy. He also posed a series of rhetorical questions, asking who would promote and protect Alaskans' interests, and answering: "Mark Begich won't. I have. I will."
Miller, by contrast, spent more time criticizing the Republican Party than he spent criticizing Begich. His speech was focused on federal spending and the national debt -- issues on which Republicans have been weak, he said.
"We have what I call the Republican surrender caucus that has lavished government to grow at an expanse beyond anything that has been seen in the recent era," Miller said. "In fact, much of the growth of the federal government -- its blame lays right at the feet of the Republicans."
He cautioned convention attendees not to "water down" the party's platform, saying that compromising on issues like gay marriage and abortion would be "catastrophic" and allow Begich to beat the Republican nominee.
State Chairman Peter Goldberg said that in spite of Miller's criticisms, Alaska Republicans leaders are in fact still aligned with members of the party's right wing like senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz. Asked about Miller's comments, Goldberg pulled a mobile phone out of his pocket and showed a reporter a picture of himself standing with Lee.
"There's nothing about what we're doing here that's out of line with what Ted Cruz and Mike Lee agree with," Goldberg said.
Goldberg added that he would give full support to Miller if he defeats Treadwell and Sullivan in August.
"If he wins the primary election, my job is to get him elected," Goldberg said. "And I'll do everything I can to make that happen."
While Republican leaders here have tried to downplay any ideological split within the party, the issue clearly was still on the minds of many attendees on Friday: Half the 20 questions they submitted to the moderator asked about how the losers of the primary would pledge their support to the winner.
After the forum, Gov. Sean Parnell addressed the convention, and then attendees split up into committees to discuss the party's platform. Those sessions were closed to reporters, party leaders said.
Reach Nathaniel Herz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4311.
By NATHANIEL HERZ