Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Miller said Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the likely Democratic Party nominee, former Gov. Tony Knowles, agree on so much that the race would turn into a referendum on nepotism over her appointment to the Senate by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski.
Miller believes he has the only legitimate shot at defeating Knowles in November, which is one of the reasons he will challenge Murkowski in the August Republican primary.
"Lisa cannot win," he said during an interview Thursday in Kenai with the Peninsula Clarion. "I'm a Republican through and through, and in a race between Lisa and Tony there are some issues that are going to come up that Lisa cannot win on. If I'm in the race, I think it is a different story, and those issues don't come up and I beat Tony."
Alaskans, he said, are a pretty conservative group of voters. Narrowed down to those likely to vote in a Republican primary, it gets even more conservative, he said.
"I have an 18-year record of being a conservative. Lisa's record, quite frankly on a lot of issues, is fairly liberal. She has the nepotism issue out there. I'm not going to bring it up, but it's out there.
"I'm going to campaign on the issues. Where does she stand on gun rights? Where does she stand on taxes? On the abortion issue? Those are the hot-button issues in the Republican primary."
The 2004 election will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, a body currently split virtually down the middle, with 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one Independent who often votes with the Democrats.
A shift of one or two seats would make the difference. Retaining Republican control is critical, Miller said.
"That's one of the reasons I'm running, because Lisa will lose that seat to Tony Knowles," he said. "If I'm running against Tony, we will keep that seat for a number of reasons."
Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one issue. While Miller acknowledges Knowles' support for opening ANWR, he discounts claims that a Democratic senator for Alaska would have more influence over other Democrats in future votes in Congress.
For "Democratic diehards," Alaska is a long way away and opposition to ANWR drilling becomes a cheap environmental vote with which to conserve their environmentalist voter bases, Miller said.
"I understand politics," he said. "What I'm saying is that if the senate stays within Republican control, the likelihood of (ANWR) even coming up (for a vote) is much greater than if it is in Democratic control."
Miller said he's hoping for a large voter turnout in Alaska.
"The bigger the turnout, the more conservative the vote is," he said. "When you have small turnout, you get a Mark Begich elected in Anchorage. When you get a big turnout, you get almost an entire Republican delegation in Juneau."
Miller cited a National Journal review of voting records that rated Murkowski the sixth most liberal Republican in the Senate.
She demonstrated her liberal bent, he said, when he was senate president in the Alaska Legislature. Murkowski, a member of the Alaska House, voted with Democrats, he said, in support of a veto of a gun liability bill that Republicans wanted overridden.
Miller also said Murkowski had been a supporter of a statewide income tax. Pro-life on abortion, Miller said he doesn't know which side she comes down on.
"Lisa will say she has moved to the right in the U.S. Senate. I'm not disputing that," he said.
For instance, Miller gave her credit for voting for President George W. Bush's tax cut measures. She just hasn't moved far enough to ensure her victory in the upcoming election, he said.
As for his own pro-life stand on abortion, Miller said he might be able to vote for a Supreme Court nominee who was pro-choice, assuming in other respects the person was qualified.
"I will look at the person. If on all other issues things stacked up well, I maybe would be able to support that person," he said.
He said he is an independent thinker and would not be driven by a Republican caucus opposing such a nominee.
"I make up my own mind," he said.
Miller said he is a staunch supporter of the right to bear arms. He has no problem, for instance, with federal permits allowing citizens to own machine guns. He said the permit system is reasonable. Crimes committed with firearms should be dealt with severely, he said.
National statistics show a high percentage of gun-related crimes are committed in the heat of passion and involve people who know each other. Miller doesn't buy the argument that the presence of the gun itself is influential.
"(A criminal) may end up doing (crime) with another instrument, too," he said.
That the framers of the Constitution's 2nd Amendment could not have imagined modern fire arms machine guns, grenade launchers, bazookas and the like, should not cloud the issue, Miller said.
"I think the framers of the Constitution wrote that people should be able to own weapons because they grew up in a system where the king took away their weapons to protect his power," he said.
Recent federal tax cuts have been controversial in light of the cost of the Iraq war, their disproportionate benefit to richest Americans and growing deficits.
But Miller said he believes further tax relief is necessary to stimulate economic growth. He said tax cuts put in place during the Reagan administration led to the rapid growth in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Asked how the surplus of the 1990s turned into the largest-ever federal deficits in a little over three years, Miller placed blame partially on the war and partially on growing spending on things like Social Security.
As to the net loss of jobs since 2000, Miller said it might be part of regular economic cycles.
"Do I have all answers? No. Otherwise, I'd be writing a book," he said.
Miller said he would promote options for education.
"That means parental choice, i.e. vouchers," he said, adding that also would mean vouchers for sending students to religious schools.
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