Monday morning, in a crowded hotel bar in downtown Anchorage, the Tea Party Express introduced itself to Alaska. The organization's message was clear: We focus exclusively on fiscal issues, we are not racist, and we are going to get Joe Miller elected to the U.S. Senate.
Most of the questions asked by the local media were about racism, a concern sparked by an ugly blog post written by the organization's former chairman, Mark Williams, on his private blog.
The Tea Party Express has said they will spend "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to help Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller knock out U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. At the Monday press conference they played three radio ads and said they have a television ad in production that will start running by next week.
"Just because somebody is a Republican doesn't mean they're voting the way they should," said Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, explaining why she wants Murkowski out while sitting in a meeting room in the Historic Anchorage Hotel. She ticked off what she sees as Murkowski's most egregious decisions, including the senator's support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, "Obamacare," and taxpayer-funded abortions.
Kremer, a former flight attendant who succeeded Williams as the organization's chairman, said during the press conference that Williams was not speaking on behalf of the organization when he wrote the post, but she stopped short of condemning what he wrote. As a result of the brouhaha over Williams' post, the Tea Party Federation, an umbrella organization of tea party groups, ejected the Tea Party Express from its membership. Kremer said she couldn't care less, explaining that the Federation is basically just an e-mail listserv where groups trade thoughts on messaging.
"Who are they to expel anybody from the movement?" Kremer asked. "It's preposterous."
Monday afternoon the Joe Miller campaign is holding a press conference to answer questions about Miller's departure from his assistant attorney job at the Fairbanks North Star Borough. In an e-mail announcing the presser, campaign manager Paul Bauer said they would respond to "accusations that Joe Miller was fired." In addition, the Fairbanks North Star Borough has said it will be releasing Miller's employment records to several Alaska news organizations at some point on Monday.
Miller's departure from the borough has zero bearing on how he would serve as a senator, said Bryan Shroyer, political director for the Tea Party Express.
"I think it's a non-issue," Shroyer said. "I can't say we knew about it in advance, but that's because we wouldn't have cared."
When the Tea Party Express leadership made their announcements and played the radio spots underneath a mounted mountain goat head and a huge set of moose antlers, the bar was packed with reporters and cameramen on one side and tea partiers on the other. One partier held a big yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag complete with coiled snake and big black letters. Another held a homemade sign that asked "Where's the media?" and showed President Barack Obama dressed as the Pied Piper whistling a tune to rats representing the news networks.
The primary battle between Murkowski and Miller is clearly unfriendly, but it looks poised to heat up into downright mean. When asked whether she thinks the campaign will turn negative, Kremer said "We've always been positive in our ads." But from across the room, Shroyer jokingly yelled out "Hedge, Amy, hedge!" before explaining that anytime you run a "contrast ad" it's portrayed as negative, but that it's crucial to show the differences between Murkowski and Miller.
Mike Coons, a 57-year-old local tea partier standing outside the bar yesterday in the light summer rain, had even fewer reservations about the fight getting nasty.
"I know this is going to turn into an attack campaign," said Coons, who works the gate at Elemendorf Air Force Base. He also said there shouldn't be any compromise with Democrats under any circumstances.
"I've told Lisa the only time I want to hear about you reaching across the aisle is to grab them by the throat," he said.
Contact Joshua Saul at jsaul(at)alaskadispatch.com.