Hope fades for shoot-from-the-lip tea party candidate

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (AFP)

Two weeks after decisive US mid-term polls, a controversial Tea Party member is clinging to hopes of election in Alaska despite growing signs his bid to become a senator on a technicality has failed.

In the state which gave the world Sarah Palin, Joe Miller is battling to oust incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski, notably by trying to disqualify so-called “write-in” ballots where voters have misspelled Murkowski’s name.

Miller sued Alaskan authorities in federal court even before the count began last week, seeking to reverse a plan to use “voter intent” to allow the misspelled ballots to stand, rather than simply discounting them.

But by Tuesday, after six days of write-in ballot counting, Murkowski passed Miller in total votes counted in the vast northwestern US state.

A total of 84,563 undisputed ballots had been cast for Murkowski — still shy of the 87,517 cast for Miller with 89 percent of the vote counted. But an extra 7,601 have been counted for Murkowski, albeit challenged by Miller’s campaign.

Each day that Murkowski — forced to run as an independent after Miller scored an upset and secured the Republican primary nomination — maintains her proportion of the count, the more assured she is of victory.

Miller — an attorney by training with a degree from Yale Law School — is a figurehead for a conservative school of thought which calls for the narrowest interpretation of the US Constitution.

His opponents also have criticized his ideas on privatizing social security with Democratic rival Scott McAdams saying Miller “would like to repeal the 20th Century.”

His campaign gaffes arguably did more to damage his election hopes, however.

Miller raised eyebrows when he told a town hall-style gathering of supporters that the former East Germany provided a useful model for the United States on the issue of border security.

He attracted further criticism when, after the meeting, a local reporter was detained by his security detail after questioning Miller about his employment records from a previous job

The reporter was released when police arrived, and Miller eventually had to answer the questions, admitting that he had been previously reprimanded for using government computers to vote in an online political poll.

While Miller has attracted headlines for his sometimes-wacky campaign for the Senate, he was little known before the race.

He grew up in Kansas, attended West Point, and saw combat in the first Gulf War. After Yale Law School, he moved to Alaska and practiced law in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

He earned another degree — a master?s in economics from the University of Alaska — and raised eight children, but except for an unsuccessful run for the Alaska House of Representatives in 2004, his public profile was relatively low.

That all changed this year when the Tea Party movement — a loose coalition of conservatives unhappy with establishment Republicans like Murkowski — recruited dozens of candidates for national office.

While 2008 Republican vice presidential hopeful Palin’s backing helped to get them noticed, the media attention also spotlighted the oddities of several of those candidates — Christine O?Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, for example.

None of the most eccentric Tea Party prevailed on election day on November 2.

If Miller somehow manages to survive the write-in count — and so far he shows no sign of conceding — he would likely be one of the most interesting Tea Party figures in the Senate come January.

But that scenario seems less likely with every passing day.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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