Senate: Miller vs. McAdams

Posted: Monday, September 06, 2010

Alaskans will be getting to know more about Joe Miller, the Fairbanks attorney and political novice who pulled off what may be the Republican primary election upset of the year.

Miller narrowly defeated U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski with the help of a last-minute surge of out-of-state tea party money.

They'll be learning more about Scott McAdams, too, Miller's Democratic challenger in the Nov. 2 general election. McAdams and Miller are both political novices, at least on the statewide scene. Miller ran unsuccessfully for a Fairbanks legislative seat in 2004, and McAdams is still in his first term as mayor of Sitka, although he has served on the local school board for some time.

Murkowski's defeat is a big deal nationally. She is the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Miller won't enjoy Murkowski's seniority and he won't have a seat on the appropriations committee. And while he could get a seat on the energy and natural resources committee, he won't be a ranking member.

Murkowski conceded defeat Aug. 31 after a count of 15,000 absentee ballots left her still trailing Miller by 1,630 votes. Murkowski had hoped to make up the difference among absentee and challenged ballots.

"I don't see a scenario where the primary will turn out in my favor, and that is a reality that is before me at this point in time. And for that reason, and for the good of the state of Alaska, I am now conceding the race for the Republican nomination," she said.

As the dust settles from the primary, Miller's Democratic challenger in the Nov. 2 general election, McAdams, is busy getting his name known in Anchorage and other areas outside Southeast.

Alaska Democratic Party Chairwoman Patti Higgins quelled rumors that the party would seek a higher profile candidate than McAdams.

"We are full bore ahead with Scott McAdams," she said.

Miller had been endorsed by former Gov. Sarah Palin, who also worked to get backing for Miller from the Tea Party Express of California.

Alaskans have learned some things about Miller. He is an attorney from Fairbanks, served as a state and federal magistrate, is a Yale Law School graduate and a Gulf War veteran.

He is a friend of Todd Palin, former Gov. Sarah Palin's husband, and the connection brought him Palin's endorsement in the race against Murkowski and $600,000 of out-of-state Tea Party funds to finance a last-minute advertising surge.

Miller credited the dedication and energy of his volunteers for making the difference.

"It truly was spreading the word, getting out the signs, making sure that people knew about the candidacy and the direction this state could go to, I think, help secure its future," Miller said.

Miller said many veterans and active military members vote by absentee ballot and he expected their votes to favor him.

Carl Shepro, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said a factor that helped Miller was the barrage of ads that labeled Murkowski as a liberal and questioned her voting record on federal health care reform. Shepro believes a lot of people bought the message.

"Some of the ads were misleading," he said. "It was very clearly the case that she is not how he depicted her. Most of her votes have not been supportive of Democratic positions."

Another helpful factor in the Aug. 24 primary election was an initiative to require parental notification for minors to obtain abortions, he said. The measure, which passed, likely drew more conservative voters to the polls.

In the days following the primary election, there were more campaign fireworks. Miller was on the talk-radio airwaves blasting the national Republican Party for attempts to influence the counting of absentee votes, a charge discounted by state Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who is in charge of the Division of Elections.

The ruckus is over the actions of a Murkowski poll observer who Miller alleged tried to manipulate the state's elections computer system at the Wasilla office of the Division of Elections. Murkowski's campaign denied the charge and division officials said the system couldn't be manipulated from field offices.

Meanwhile, having won, Miller's conservative views on radical changes to social security, Medicare and the U.S. Department of Education are attracting attention. Miller says he wants to "privatize" social security, a proposal made by former President George Bush and still supported by many conservatives.

The program would be changed gradually so existing seniors wouldn't lose benefits, Miller said.

Miller said he would also campaign for loosening federal control over Alaska's natural resources, including oil and gas, which are popular themes in Alaska. His criticism of high federal spending and deficits will also go over well in the campaign.

But Alaska is heavily dependent on federal funds, and Miller said the state would have to bear its share of spending cuts. This will open Miller to attacks by his Democratic challenger.

McAdams is already criticizing Miller's assertion that Alaska can get along with less in federal funds.

"Alaska is a young state and we have not had an opportunity to be developed. Some people claim Alaska is too dependent on federal funding but we have every right to fight for funding for our development," McAdams said.

Historically, all western states benefited from investments made then by the federal government and the wealthier eastern states, he said. The large federal land grants and federally backed loans provided for the development of the trans-continental railroads, as a prime example, McAdams said.

If elected, McAdams would work to influence Congress and the Obama administration that resource development in Alaska, in projects like the natural gas pipeline, can be a "green choice" because of the environmental benefits to the nation.

Miller thinks the bloated federal budget and deficits are a greater threat to Alaska in the long run than reduced funding, his spokesman Randy DeSoto said.

"If we're continuing down the road of $1 trillion deficits per year there won't be any discretionary money. It will disappear. That's Miller's main point," DeSoto said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, said he will miss Lisa Murkowski.

"Senator Murkowski has served the citizens of Alaska with great energy and considerable grace, always putting Alaska first," Begich said in a statement. "While we served together in the U.S. Senate for almost two years from different political parties, we agreed on Alaska issues nearly 99 percent of the time.

"She has been my friend for many years, and for the past nearly two years we have worked together on behalf of Alaska," Begich said. "When I was first elected, she and her staff were eager to help me and my staff navigate the complexities of the U.S. Senate, and we were grateful for their assistance," he said.

Journal reporter Andrew Jensen and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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