WASILLA -- If Joe Miller's campaign kickoff Monday night seemed like a revival, maybe in a sense it was. There was a preacher and singing, talk about God and hope, and in the center of it all, Miller, the flawed but charismatic candidate from 2010 now on his second try for U.S. Senate.
A rowdy crowd of maybe 200 people filled a room at the Wasilla Lake Resort. There were young women holding babies, men in baseball caps, retired couples, libertarians and tea partiers, Republicans and independents.
"Go Joe! Go Joe!" they chanted when he took the stage maybe an hour into his official campaign launch.
Four years ago, tea party darling Miller shocked Alaska's political establishment when he beat incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary. But he soon was painted as a far-right extremist, and he wouldn't answer questions about his past. Concerns about Miller, including his positions on issues from abortion to abolition of federal agencies, opened the way for Murkowski to defeat him in a write-in campaign that November.
Some wrote Miller off after that. Not his fervent supporters. The Fairbanks attorney has been sending out e-mail missives and tweets for months.
At Monday's event, which lasted about 1 1/2 hours, his campaign biography video played on multiple screens. Red, white and blue balloons and Miller banners decorated the big room. Some who spoke had flown in from other states.
Tim Macy, the California-based vice chairman of Gun Owners of America, told the crowd that the group has endorsed Miller because he's "the real deal" in Alaska's GOP field. The gun owners group is smaller than the National Rifle Association and even more conservative, Macy said, but like the NRA has an active political arm.
There's no doubt the other Republican candidates in Alaska would also vote pro-gun but the group wants someone who will lead, Macy said.
"We're looking for the Ted Cruzes, the Mike Lees, the Rand Pauls," Macy said, pausing as audience members shouted out "the Joe Millers."
"That's why I'm here, for the Joe Millers," Macy finished. Miller has been on the gun group's radar for years, he said.
Miller is up against two prominent Republicans, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, in a bid to take on Democratic incumbent Mark Begich in November. Sullivan is far ahead of the other two in fund-raising with almost $2 million in hand as of the end of March. Miller, who says his support is grass roots, had just under $300,000.
Macy told the Miller crowd he flies around the country endorsing candidates.
"There's only a few that I really get excited about, trust me," Macy said, saying Miller is one.
He urged the crowd to leave the "feel-good" kickoff with a commitment to do something -- give even a little money, put up a yard sign, volunteer for Miller.
Lars Larson, a national conservative talk radio host based in Portland, Ore., did his show from Wasilla on Monday and put Miller on the air. He said Miller's the type who will get support from like-minded people in other states.
Ethan Hansen, pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship in Big Lake, said he supported Miller as a man of truth and perseverance. His talk referenced the federal debt and the life of Jesus, abortion and gay marriage.
"It's not just a fetus, it's a child," Hansen said. "It's not just an alternative life style, it's an attack upon marriage."
"You better believe it," a man said.
Hansen said "the church can create good people who elect great people to serve in our government."
"There you go!" someone shouted.
When Miller took the stage, he joked about what was perhaps the pivotal low point in the 2010 general election campaign, when his private security guards handcuffed an editor who was trying to ask Miller questions. He introduced his wife of 22 years, Kathleen, and their four youngest children, ranging in ages from 10 to 16, describing the kids as martial arts experts.
"We learned after the 2010 race we needed in-house security," Miller joked, prompting laughs and applause. "So I don't need to bring my handcuffs anymore."
He talked about growing up poor in Kansas and serving in the first Gulf War, about going to Yale Law School then making a life in Alaska. He talked about liberty and freedom, about opportunities that he had and that he believes are slipping away for younger people and the middle class.
"This is about we the people. It's not about Joe Miller," he said. Things needs to turn so "government is the servant and you are the master."
People cheered and hooted loudly at that.
"Freedom itself in this country is under threat," he said. The country, he said, needs to return to "first principles."
"That's right!" a man shouted. "Yeah!" said another.
The founders knew "that only God gives rights," Miller said. "Government that gives you something can take it away. It tries to create dependency."
Those God-given rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, he said. The federal government should only have the powers specified in the U.S. Constitution.
Miller told the crowd that the federal government has no business owning land in Alaska, except for the military bases. He said the "tyrannical IRS" should be abolished, Obamacare should be repealed, and spending limits should be put on Congress.
As to the Environmental Protection Agency, he said "I'm up to my eyeballs with the EPA. All you have to say is the words 'Chicken, Alaska' and you know where I stand on that issue." He was referring to a controversial EPA raid last year of Chicken area mining operations.
And, Miller said, power should return to the states so they are in charge, not the feds.
"I've had enough with gangster government," he said.
After his talk, Miller wouldn't stop to answer questions from a reporter, saying he needed to work the room and talk with supporters.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER