Politics

Joe Miller Mounts General Election Challenge to Alaska's Lisa Murkowski

The 2010 GOP nominee has filed to run as the Libertarian candidate

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks with Roll Call in a meeting room in her office in the Hart Senate Office Building on Wednesday, June 29, 2016. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Joe Miller, the 2010 GOP Senate nominee from Alaska, announced Tuesday that he has filed the paperwork to run on the general election ballot as the Libertarian candidate, once again setting up a challenge to GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Miller, a vocal tea party voice in Alaska, declined to mount a primary challenge to Murkowski earlier this year. He defeated the senator in the 2010 GOP primary. Murkowski went on to make history by winning the general election contest via a write-in campaign. 

[Lisa Murkowski: From Write-In to Shoo-In?]

But Miller said Tuesday that the low-turnout in this year's Republican primary suggested voters wanted another choice. And with Libertarian Cean Stevens' withdrawal from the race, Miller said he had an opening to give them that choice.

"People here are relieved that I’m on the ballot," Miller told Roll Call.

"I’m sure not many in Washington are, though," he added.

In 2010, GOP leadership got behind Miller after he won the nomination. But when he ran in the 2014 primary, even the conservative Club for Growth bypassed Miller in favor of Dan Sullivan.

The Alaska Libertarian Party reached out to Miller about taking Cean's last week. Miller said the party's board of directors unanimously approved him as Stevens' replacement.

“The choice between a Democrat, a Democrat-backed independent, and a Republican-In-Name-Only — who has been one of Barack Obama’s chief enablers — is no choice at all," Miller said in a statement.

[Murkowski Cruises to Primary Victory]

Democrat Ray Metcalfe and Independent Margaret Stock are also on the November ballot. Miller has consistently attacked Murkowski for not being conservative enough.

Murkowski, who won 72 percent of the August primary vote, responded Tuesday night.

“I have been preparing for this race for the past several years and look forward to a spirited campaign on the issues that matter to Alaskans most,” she said. 

Murkowki's job approval rating was 68 percent in a late August poll of 500 likely voters; 25 percent disapproved of the job she was doing.

Murkowski learned from her 2010 scare, and national Republicans say her more aggressive campaign this election cycle deterred would-be primary opponents.

But speaking to Roll Call in August, Miller disagreed. A big-enough name could have defeated the senator in the primary, he said.

Miller himself left the door open to a primary bid until the June filing. But he was hesitant to make the financial and familial sacrifices of closing his law practice to run another campaign. He was pleased when former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan (no relation to the junior senator) got in the primary race. But Sullivan dropped his challenge soon after getting in the race.

The low primary turnout was enough to change Miller's mind, and the response he's gotten from his grassroots supporters has convinced him he can mount a campaign with less than two months to go. His team already has offices in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

"I work best under pressure and intense circumstances," Miller said.

But he starts at a large financial deficit. Murkowski ended the pre-primary reporting period with $2.5 million. Miller's campaign account had just shy of $10,000 at the end of the 2nd quarter.

"We know that we need funding, but that’s not our strength," Miller said. "We’ve never competed monetarily in any of our races," he said. After finishing second in 2014, this will be Miller's third Senate bid. 

Miller has already invested in his race but wouldn't say how much of his own money he's prepared to spend. "We're going to do what's necessary," he said. "But I'm not a millionaire. I can't buy a race." 

If elected this year, Miller said he will caucus with Republicans.

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