The Tea Party Express is pledging to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost little-known Joe Miller's bid to defeat U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The group, funded through a California-based political action committee, said it will have staff in Alaska and make the race its top priority until the Aug. 24 primary.
The support could make a big difference for Miller, a Fairbanks lawyer and former state Republican Party official. The Tea Party Express, one of the most visible factions of the tea party movement, promises a wave of television and radio ads supporting Miller and opposing Murkowski in the coming weeks.
Tea Party Express officials were inspired to look at Miller after Sarah Palin endorsed him earlier this month, a spokesman said.
"Her endorsement kind of put the spotlight on Joe Miller," Levi Russell, spokesman for the Tea Party Express, said Wednesday. "We were looking for candidates with circumstances where we thought we could be helpful and make a difference. So by her endorsing him a week or two ago it caused us to take a second look at it."
Russell said Miller is the kind of candidate the group wants to support — someone who shares its perspective but needs star power to become known to voters. Miller announced his candidacy by declaring the nation to be in a "headlong plunge into socialism."
Miller has never held public office. He made a run for the state Legislature in 2004 but lost a close race against Fairbanks Democratic Rep. David Guttenberg. Supporters point to his resume: a graduate of West Point and Yale law school, with a master's degree in economics from the University of Alaska. He's a veteran of the first Gulf War and lists a Bronze Star award on his campaign website.
Murkowski is a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and is the most senior Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She won't be easy to beat, with more than $2 million in campaign cash and approval ratings over 60 percent. Anchorage pollster and political consultant Marc Hellenthal said it will be a closer race with the Palin' endorsement and the Tea Party Express money. But Murkowski has perfect name recognition, Hellenthal said.
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