Politics & Government

Alaska tea party favorite Joe Miller gets funds from national GOP

WASHINGTON — National Republican establishment money is lining up behind Joe Miller, with a $212,000 pledge from the same national campaign committee Miller accused of trying to steal the election for incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The support comes as Murkowski is considering an independent write-in candidacy after losing to Miller in last month's Republican primary.

The Miller campaign cash is from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a group that Miller assailed before the count of absentee votes decided the primary. Miller complained when the NRSC sent a lawyer to Alaska to advise Murkowski in the count, and his campaign suggested the group was behind what it called "nefarious" phone calls asking absentee voters how they voted.

Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said Wednesday the campaign didn't think it was appropriate for the NRSC to choose sides before the Republican primary was decided.

"They heard us out, and they responded," DeSoto said. "We were pleased with their response, and we're pleased they're also backing the campaign."

Murkowski's own Denali Leadership Political Action Committee in May contributed $15,000 to the NRSC -- joining the pot of money that will now flow to Miller, potentially to use against Murkowski if she wages a write-in effort as an independent. Murkowski's campaign staffers are waiting to hear if she will.

"It's fair to say we're in a moment of pause, but no firm decision has been made yet," Steve Wackowski, Murkowski's campaign spokesman, said Wednesday.

A write-in candidacy is likely Murkowski's only choice to stay in the race for the November general election, since the Alaska Libertarian Party appears unwilling to give up its U.S. Senate candidate to allow Murkowski on its ticket.

A statewide write-in campaign would be a massive challenge, although voters would not necessarily have to spell Murkowski's name correctly to add her to their ballots.

"If I am able to determine the voter's intent, then the ballot would be counted accordingly," Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said.

But unlike some other states, Alaska doesn't allow voters to use stickers on the ballot with the candidate's name. That means the Murkowski campaign couldn't do a mass distribution of stickers for potential supporters to use on election day.

Murkowski has over $1 million left in her campaign account that she could use for a write-in bid. But she is watching old allies promising checks to Miller.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pledged $5,000 from his own political action committee to Miller, joining the support of the NRSC.

Miller is also getting money from the more conservative wing of the party. South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund on Tuesday devoted $12,983 to an online appeal to help raise money for Miller, according to disclosures. That comes on top of the Washington, D.C., anti-tax group Club for Growth promising to spend "whatever it takes" on Miller. The Club for Growth is the outfit that funded then-Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell's unsuccessful run against Rep. Don Young in the 2008 Republican House race.

Club for Growth spokesman Mike Connolly said the group even has a strategy if Murkowski stays in the race. They'll cast the race as "Joe Miller versus two liberals," Connolly said.

Miller will face Democrat Scott McAdams, the Sitka mayor, in the November general election. National Democrats to this point have pledged little more than moral support to McAdams -- the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee won't disclose whether it intends to spend any money in the race.

McAdams did land the endorsement of national AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, though. That should open the door to union contributions from across the country, and on-the-ground support from union members in Alaska, said AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale.

McAdams' campaign spokeswoman, Heather Handyside, said the campaign has also been steadily raising money in a way that "really exceeded all of our expectations." Act Blue, a website that corrals donations for Democratic candidates, reports raising $146,741 for McAdams since the August primary.

People have walked into their campaign headquarters to give them donations, Handyside said, even though their office didn't open officially until Wednesday night, with a potluck.

For now, Handyside said, they are focusing on painting Miller as an extremist candidate as well as introducing McAdams to as many Alaskans as possible.

One group that might sit out the money race is the Tea Party Express, which spent as much as $600,000 to help Miller beat Murkowski in the Republican primary. That included a $234,000 blitz in the final weeks of the primary.

The group's political action committee, Our Country Deserves Better, has turned its focus to several other primaries, said spokesman Levi Russell. Miller's unexpected upset has brought the Alaska Republican so much national attention that he has enough momentum to succeed now without their help, Russell said.

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