A batch of 6-year-old fliers is coming back to haunt Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski as she tries to fend off a challenge from Joe Miller, the Libertarian candidate vying for her seat.
Miller, riding a wave of tea party support, beat Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary before losing to her in a write-in campaign in the general election. That year, the Alaska Republican Party printed a series of fliers on behalf of Miller — its official candidate — including one that blasted Murkowski, accusing her of "bailing out Wall Street" and "sending Alaskans the bill."
Those fliers found their way back to Miller this year after he launched his last-minute challenge to Murkowski as a Libertarian convert. And over the weekend, his campaign put them in the mail, with an addition typed beside the six-year-old attack on Murkowski: "What the Republican Party said in 2010 … what has changed?"
The move turned up the heat on an already boiling feud between Miller's campaign and the Alaska Republican Party, highlighting how the insurgents who seized control of the party in 2010 are now back on the outside with the GOP behind Murkowski, a moderate.
"Sometimes our members choose to advance a Joe Miller in the primary and sometimes they choose to advance a Lisa Murkowski," said Tuckerman Babcock, the Alaska Republican Party chairman. He added: "We are definitely the party of fierce-minded individuals."
By late Monday, Miller's campaign was accusing Babcock in a press release of being Murkowski's "hired henchman" while the state GOP had filed a police report claiming that its "party property" — the fliers — had been stolen, misrepresented, or misappropriated by Miller.
The dispute has its roots in 2010, when the Alaska Republican Party printed a series of fliers meant to support Miller's campaign.
Federal rules required the fliers to be handled by volunteers, not paid party staff, and when the mailings were done, one of the volunteers — who were largely Miller boosters — asked party officials if he could dispose of them, said Casey Reynolds, a former GOP spokesman who now runs a political blog, the Midnight Sun. Reynolds supervised the 2010 mailings.
"My response was, 'Yeah, God bless you if you get rid of them,' " Reynolds said in a phone interview Monday. "They disappeared."
Fast forward to last week, when the Alaska Republican Party accused Miller's campaign of filing a false campaign report — a donation of $4,500 of brochures from the state GOP. At a news conference at his campaign headquarters off Northern Lights Boulevard, Miller responded by resurrecting the six-year-old fliers, saying that boxes of them had been dropped off to his office — though he wouldn't say by whom.
"It's like the Holy Grail — they disappeared from world view for six years and then they popped up like three weeks ago," Reynolds said. "Who would have suspected that six years later, we would have had the exact same race?"
After the fliers re-emerged, Babcock said the Alaska GOP warned the U.S. Postal Service about them, since they suspected that Miller's campaign might use the fliers for this year's campaign. Late last week, a Postal Service employee, Alejandro Tungul, emailed Babcock to tell him that an attempted mailing of the anti-Murkowski fliers had been rejected at a post office, according to a copy of the message provided by the party.
Tungul didn't say why the mailing was rejected and a Postal Service spokesman, Ernie Swanson, wouldn't elaborate beyond writing in an email that mailings are reviewed thoroughly for "design elements, mailing statements and postage payments," and can be "returned to the mailer for correction and resubmission."
But the email from Tungul spurred the Republicans to file their police report Monday morning, which accused Miller of thievery and said the 2010 mailers were "fraudulently acquired or created."
The party, Babcock said, was worried Miller might have tried to use their bulk mailing permit, or failed to include a federally required disclosure that Miller's campaign paid for the postage.
"That all seems very typical of the way Joe Miller tries to run his campaigns," Babcock said in a phone interview Monday from Tennessee, where he's visiting family. "It's very hard to figure out what the truth is, and it's hard to figure out what the latest scam is, as far as how he presents things."
But a spokesman for Miller, Randy DeSoto, said the campaign initially affixed its own bulk mailing permit on the fliers before ultimately sending them with stamps; he added that the campaign also included its own disclosure.
In a prepared statement late Monday, Miller's campaign said Babcock was "trying to illegally exploit the police for political gain" and distracting from Murkowski's record.
"Clearly Tuckerman Babcock is trying to keep Alaskans from learning about Murkowski's liberal voting record and the money laundering scheme she and the party have been perpetrating on the Alaskan people with her campaign funds," DeSoto was quoted as saying.
The "money laundering scheme" was a reference to Miller's latest line of attack on Murkowski: that the Republican Party is using cash transferred from her campaign to launch attacks on him.
A spokesman for Murkowski, Robert Dillon, said he had no comment on the recycled 2010 mailer, and he didn't respond to a request for comment on the Miller campaign's statement.
The attacks between Miller and the Republican Party, said Reynolds, the former GOP spokesman, sounds like a "spitball fight." But he argued that the accusations also highlight a significant underlying debate about the two candidates' relationships with the Republican Party: Does Murkowski represent GOP values, or does Miller?
"There is some substance there," Reynolds said. "It just doesn't seem to be what anyone's talking about."