Joe Miller started his Senate campaign strong with a shocking primary upset of incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Miller had the force of Tea Party Express and the public backing of Sarah Palin behind him, and, with the widely popular Murkowski out of the picture, his path to Washington seemed clear.
But in the past month, things have not been going Miller's way. First, Murkowski decided to run as a write-in Republican candidate--and is already polling neck-and-neck with Miller, despite the extra challenges of not actually being on the ballot.
Then, a rift with the Palins made headlines with the circulation of a leaked email from Todd Palin to Miller. In the email, Palin berated Miller for not affirming Sarah Palin's presidential capacity--an exchange that seemed rooted in a misunderstanding, but which nevertheless drew a sharp line between Miller and the Palin brand. Though it's probable Miller's campaign was the source of the leak, public attention to the e-mail has not proved beneficial. Among Alaska conservatives--Miller's bread-and-butter--Sarah Palin is still quite popular.
Miller also grappled with revelations that he and his family benefited from federal farm subsidies in the 1990s--relevant because Miller has centered his campaign on opposing government spending and the "welfare state."
Most recently, Miller's campaign has been tarnished by a combative relationship with the media. Last week, the candidate announced that he would no longer answer questions about his background or personal history. He was fed up with media investigations of his departure from the Fairbanks North Star Borough, where he was working part-time as an attorney in 2008. Alaska Dispatch, a local online news outlet, has been investigating rumors that Miller used Borough computers to engage in political activities while on the clock. The website is currently locked in a tussle with Miller's campaign and the Borough over the release of Miller's personnel file from his time there.
Then, to make matters worse, Miller's private security guards detained the founding editor of Alaska Dispatch yesterday, handcuffing him at a public event. The editor, Tony Hopfinger, approached Miller after his appearance at an Anchorage town-hall to ask him about his time at the North Star Borough. Hopfinger was holding a small video camera. Here's the Anchorage Daily News' account of the odd incident:
After Miller walked away, Hopfinger said, he was surrounded by Miller supporters and security guards and felt threatened, so he pushed one of them away.
Fulton said the man shoved by Hopfinger was not hurt.
Hopfinger said that after he shoved the man away, the guards grabbed him, cuffed his hands behind his back with steel handcuffs and sat him in a chair in the school hallway, Hopfinger said.
One of the guards grabbed Hopfinger's video camera. Later, Hopfinger said that when he got the camera back, the segment covering the span of the arrest was missing. An Anchorage police officer offered to take the camera into custody and have it examined in the crime lab to investigate whether evidence had been destroyed, but Hopfinger declined. He said he needed the camera and the remaining video for his work.
The guard who grabbed the camera said Hopfinger had dropped it in the scuffle and denied erasing anything. The guard wouldn't give his name.
While Hopfinger was still in handcuffs, the guards attempted to prevent other reporters from talking to him and threatened them too with arrest for trespass. A Daily News reporter interviewed Hopfinger anyway. No other reporters were arrested, though a few shoving matches and chest bumps ensued as the guards attempted to cordon off Hopfinger and block photographs and videos from being taken of the bizarre school scene.
Miller's campaign has issued a statement calling Hopfinger an "irrational" and "liberal blogger" attempting to "create a publicity stunt."
The incident may leave a thuggish taste in some voters' mouths. If the only other option for conservative Alaskans was Democrat Scott McAdams, Miller might have a better chance of getting away with this kind of behavior. But with Murkowski presenting another Republican option, these voters will be choosing between a known quantity with enough flaws to have lost her primary and a question mark whose flaws are hostilely guarded by his campaign.
Meanwhile, Miller can rely on some advantages in the home stretch leading up to November 2.
He has raked in $1.17 million over the past two months, more than Murkowski and McAdams combined. While Murkowski still leads in cash-on-hand, thanks to her campaign's leftover primary funds, Miller's success points to enthusiastic and powerful supporters. He has also received significant help from outside conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, in addition to Tea Party Express.
While the latter group has spent relatively little on behalf of Miller since his primary, they have been soliciting donations on his behalf. The Associated Press reports that Tea Party Express has posted online pleas citing McAdams' relatively impressive fundraising numbers and the nearly $600,000 an outside group has spent on behalf of Murkowski. Tea Party Express has had a new Murkowski attack ad ready to run for weeks, but it has not yet put it on the air.
A spokesman for the group told the Associated Press that "it plans to launch a media blitz in the race's final days, hoping for a repeat of the primary." If the group has the financial wherewithal to pull this off despite all the other races it is active in (most notably Nevada and Delaware's Senate races), Miller could look forward to yet another last-minute surge.