Opinions

Joe Miller complicates life for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, while Democrats wish they had a single choice

Joe Miller says he decided to run "at the urging of disenfranchised voters across the state," but he needed no outside encouragement.

Six years ago, he wanted thousands of misspelled write-in votes for Sen. Lisa Murkowski to be tossed, though the Alaska Supreme Court disagreed: "It would result in the disenfranchisement of some voters and ultimately rejection of the election results that constitute the will of the people."

Disenfranchisement is in the eye of the beholder.

Murkowski remains the  leader in fundraising and popular support, but her path to re-election in the U.S. Senate has become more difficult, costly and closer with Miller joining the fray this week. A lot will depend on how much and how fast he raises money,  as the $100,000 he has left over from his previous campaigns won't last long.

The Democrats have a glimmer of hope that Miller has made Murkowski vulnerable, but the Democrats are handicapped because their official candidate is former Republican and former Republican Moderate "Disco" Ray Metcalfe, with little-known independent Margaret Stock as their unofficial favorite.

With this many candidates in the mix, anyone who can reliably get 35 percent to 45  percent of the vote has a solid chance.

The weakness of Metcalfe and Stock and the Murkowski-Miller split have some Democrats thinking a write-in campaign for former Sen. Mark Begich would make sense because of his name recognition, track record and base of support.

The unprecedented success of the Murkowski write-in six years ago changed the conventional wisdom in Alaska about the practicality of that approach. And Begich's name is easier to spell.

On the conservative side, Miller has long wanted a Murkowski rematch and he avoided the cost of a primary fight by copying the rent-a-party technique pioneered by the late Wally Hickel  in 1990.

With Jack Coghill as a running mate, Hickel abandoned the Republican Party and signed on as a candidate for governor under the banner of the Alaskan Independence Party. It was a flag of convenience, as Hickel never believed that Alaska should vote on separating from the United States.

In 2010, after Murkowski sleepwalked through the primary campaign and Miller upset her for the GOP nomination, there was brief speculation about her switching sides to run as a Libertarian in the general election.

After winning the GOP nomination that summer, Miller went on Twitter to ask, "What's the difference between selling out your party's values and the oldest profession?"

The tweet was deleted by his campaign and  Miller apologized: "Please accept my apologies. Staffer trying to encourage Libertarians not to sell out." The tweet was directed at the Alaska Libertarian Party, not at Murkowski, the Miller campaign said.

Six years later, Miller says he is not selling out by flying the Libertarian banner but is giving the voters a choice. As for party labels, he said he supports the Republican platform and the Alaska Libertarian platform.

The Libertarian Republic website headlined a story on him Wednesday, "Joe Miller rejects Libertarianism, files to run as a Libertarian."

Miller says he's not rejecting Libertarianism, just the party's presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, and parts of the national platform.

Miller is trying to brand himself as a "federal Libertarian," which he says means that he is aligning with the Libertarians in Alaska, not other states. He might have had luck as an "anti-federal Libertarian."

The national Libertarian platform calls for the repeal of laws banning the recreational use of drugs and asserts that questions such as same-sex marriage and abortion are up to individuals to decide, not government.

The state platform is light on specifics and strong on generalities. It doesn't mention abortion and other elements included in the national Libertarian platform that create controversy in some quarters.

For instance, the national platform calls for phasing out Social Security. The state platform merely says, "Retirement planning is the responsibility of the individual, not the government."

The national platform calls for the U.S. to "both avoid entangling alliances and abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world." The state Libertarian platform merely calls for a military that is strong enough to "provide defense against aggression."

The national platform calls for repealing the income tax and abolishing the IRS. The state platform doesn't mention anything about taxes or the IRS.

Defending his Libertarian cred to the website, Miller took a shot at the Republican Party, the one that he said he supports, and the Democratic Party:  "Although I am not voting for Gary Johnson, my candidacy – and the exceptional platform of the Alaska Libertarian Party – will absolutely move things forward against the Duopoly in both this state and at the national level."

Miller, who often uses the first person plural and sprinkles his comments with the word "folk," doesn't use the word "Duopoly" in defending his Republican cred and wants to make the case that he is the real Republican.

"I think that we actually will be the Republican candidate in the sense that Republicans will come to us because I'm only candidate in the race that supports the Republican Party platform,"  he said in an interview on KTUU-TV.

Miller's support of Trump will help him with some conservative voters, as Murkowski is no big fan of the GOP nominee. Miller has name recognition and a combative style, which both helps and hurts.

In his statewide campaign in 2014, he did not repeat some of the mistakes he made in 2010 and finished second in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, with 36,000 votes, about 9,000 votes behind Dan Sullivan, who went on to beat Begich in the general election.

It's a different race with Miller in it.

Columnist Dermot Cole can be reached at dermot@alaskadispatch.com.  The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.

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