Former State Senate President Joins Alaska GOP Senate Primary

Posted April 14, 2004 at 4:05pm

Former Alaska Senate President Mike Miller will challenge Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the August GOP primary.

Miller, who resigned his position as the state’s commissioner of administration as of April 1, told reporters in Anchorage on Wednesday that he would challenge Murkowski because he does not think she is conservative enough and he fears she is vulnerable.

“One of the things I’m very concerned about is the seat going Democratic, and quite frankly I’m just quite concerned,” Miller said last month.

All along it has seemed likely that if Murkowski were to receive a credible primary challenge it would come from the right, and Miller confirmed that, saying that in a likely matchup with former Gov. Tony Knowles (D), Murkowski is not sufficiently conservative.

“Looking at where Lisa is and looking at where [Knowles] is, I don’t see a lot of difference between the two and I see conservatives staying home on Election Day and Tony winning the seat.”

Murkowski’s aides say they are neither surprised nor worried.

“We’ve thought that a primary challenger might appear” all along, said Murkowski spokesman Elliott Bundy. “They are going to try and paint themselves as the more conservative candidate [but] voters will realize that there are no weaknesses in her platform” and will vote for Murkowski come Aug. 24, he said.

Some pundits say Murkowski is vulnerable because of how she got her job.

They note that Miller was appointed to his position as Alaska commissioner of administration by Murkowski’s father, Gov. Frank Murkowski (R), after the elder Murkowski passed over Miller and many other prominent Republicans to finish his Senate term in favor of his daughter.

Bundy notes that a recent poll conducted on behalf of KTUU-TV by Alaska-based pollster Ivan Moore revealed that Miller’s name recognition was low. Furthermore, in a matchup with Murkowski, he only won 22 percent of GOP voters to her 74 percent.

Knowles led Murkowski 47.6 percent to 44.7 percent with 4 percent of Alaskans undecided on the Senate battle.

The poll of 500 likely voters had an error margin of 4.4 percent.

Miler says he is unfazed by those numbers.

“We’re just now getting into the race,” he said Wednesday. “Polls are just a snapshot in time; let’s look at this poll two months from now.”

But Bundy also points to Murkowski’s war chest as proof that Miller faces an uphill fight.

Her latest Federal Election Commission report will show that she raised more than $540,000 in the first quarter of this year and has banked more than $1.5 million for the cycle.

“I think we’re in good shape,” Bundy said.

Miller told reporters that he will get things rolling by pouring $200,000 of his own money into a grassroots campaign.

“We’re going to make it a competitive race,” Miller said Wednesday. “We expect to spend $400,00 to $500,000 in the primary. It will be a grassroots effort on our side; we will be outspent, we know we will be outspent but we will spend what we need to to get our message out,” Miller said. “A half-million dollars goes a long way in the state of Alaska.”

Miller said he is confident he can mount a strong, grassroots campaign against Murkowski.

“All I have to do is look at the race she ran two years ago against a political newcomer,” he said, referring to Murkowski’s near loss of her state House seat in the 2002 GOP primary.

“Murkowski outspent her [challenger] almost 6 to 1 and only won by 56 votes,” Miller said.

As for whether more Republicans will enter the race, Bundy thinks not.

Referring to the poll, he said it is not exactly “an invitation” to enter the race.

Miller says the more, the merrier — even though Murkowski could benefit from having more than one primary challenger.

“I’m not afraid of anybody else getting into the race and if they do, that’s what democracy is all about,” he said.