Meet Joe Miller: The Alaska Tea Partier Who Has Dems Licking Their Lips

August 26, 2010 5:35 a.m.

If Joe Miller ultimately prevails in Alaska’s Republican primary and unseats Sen. Lisa Murkowski, you can expect the Democratic Party to go after him with gusto and paint him as an extremist. Miller (R-AK) seems to be a more polished candidate than his fellow GOP candidates Sharron Angle and Rand Paul in Nevada and Kentucky, respectively, but his positions on several issues are on par with theirs.

Among Miller’s views: He wants to eliminate the Department of Education, believes the government shouldn’t pay for unemployment insurance and says of climate change on his campaign site that it “may not even exist.” Among the more mainstream GOP positions he’s taken: Miller would cut welfare; eliminate health care for the poor by scrapping Medicaid; and the Anchorage Daily News reported that he has has called for sweeping cuts to Medicare and Social Security with a goal of phasing them out entirely in favor of total privatization.

Miller’s strong performance in Tuesday’s primary — which will likely remain undecided through Sept. 8 until thousands of outstanding absentee ballots can be counted — is seemingly thanks in large part to an abortion measure with which he shared the ballot. It forces minors to inform a parent before getting an abortion, and passed 55%-44%. Miller also opposed President Obama’s decision to alter the Mexico City Policy (also known as the Global Gag Rule) to allow federal funding to go international NGOs that offer or make referrals for abortion to women abroad.

Democrats would say that Murkowski is a far cry from staunchly pro-choice (she has a 14% rating from NARAL), but that’s how she was portrayed during the campaign. Miller is backed by the Family Research Council and opposes abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, a view far to the right of the mainstream of the GOP. (Operatives have cited her lack of negative campaigning to respond to Miller’s charges as a reason for her surprising poor showing.)

Miller, 43, a lawyer from Fairbanks, was boosted by an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and became a darling of the Tea Party Express. Alaska Republicans we interviewed doubted Palin’s influence on the race, citing instead the more than $500,000 in television ads the tea party group put on air for Miller, and his support from the über-conservative Club for Growth. He’s never held public office.

Democrats have tried to suggest Miller is in with the birther crowd because he offered a “no comment” when asked about that issue and Obama’s faith, but his campaign has stated flatly, “He doesn’t doubt the president’s characterization of his faith,” and insist he is not a birther.

Here’s Miller’s exact quote on Obama’s citizenship, from an interview with KTVA-Channel 11: “President Obama’s been elected. I’m not running on any type of birther platform. I will tell you that I am an Alaskan by choice though, and I’m going to put my documents up on the website.”

Miller told ABC’s TopLine in July that he wants to look at the constitutionality of the government paying for unemployment benefits. He’s also said he would repeal health care reform entirely, a view differing from most GOP leaders who want to just repeal the unpopular parts and keep the rest.

“I don’t think Alaskans are that crazy, and Miller is very fringe,” an Alaska Democrat backing Democratic nominee Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams told TPM in an interview. The source added that McAdams is “not a flaming liberal” and can appeal to sensible members of both parties, adding a predication that because Murkowski supporters are mainstream, they will flock to McAdams in November.

Another source who has worked in Alaska Democratic politics said Miller is “radically outside of the mainstream” and “makes Sharron Angle and Rand Paul look normal.”

National Democrats initially suggested privately they weren’t so willing to invest resources or cash in this race, but TPM sources say that once a final result is known, that may change. The DNC’s Organizing for America has a stronghold of volunteers who they could reactivate should the race become competitive.

Alaska Democrats we spoke with think McAdams has a chance to win if he’s running against Miller. McAdams, who we profiled here yesterday, thinks so too. He told reporters on a press call yesterday he believes he can win over moderate Republicans offended by Miller’s stances.

McAdams already is labeling Miller as far-right, suggesting his would not be a “campaign of extreme measures” but rather, a “campaign that looks toward the future.” McAdams said Miller “doesn’t reflect Alaska values” and wants to “say no to social progress.”

The operative who worked in Alaska Democratic politics said the national party would be smart to jump in and help McAdams because it’s much cheaper to run television advertising than other competitive states.

All of Tuesday’s votes have been counted and Miller leads Murkowski by 1,668 votes. As we’ve noted several times, it’s possible Murkowski could still win. In 2008, Sen. Ted Stevens led Mark Begich by several thousand votes, but lost once the absentees were counted a few weeks later.

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