Can Sarah Palin Save Joe Miller?

Republican Joe Miller has seemingly lost his momentum in Alaska's Senate race, going from rebel insurgent during the primary to hapless blunderer the week before the general. Miller has been slammed by a series of revelations about his background, from his family's reliance on the federal benefits he criticizes to political indiscretions--and resulting disciplinary action--while he was working as an attorney for the state. His campaign has responded with defensive and somewhat thuggish behavior, including handcuffing a journalist who tried to question Miller at a public event.

Though Alaska is a difficult state to poll accurately, the most recent survey from the state showed Miller trailing significantly behind write-in Republican Lisa Murkowski, who received 34 percent (the poll presented "write-in candidate" as an option rather than using Murkowski's name), and Democrat Scott McAdams, who received 29 percent. Miller's percentage had slipped from 31 at the beginning of the month to just 23 when the poll was released yesterday.

Miller, then, is looking for a resurgence. He may have sparked one in a rally last night headlined by Sarah Palin, though it's too early to judge whether the gathering will significantly energize the last days of his campaign. Palin and Miller have had a complicated background of late--at least as far as the media is aware--and she has been slow to throw her full weight into this race.

Miller in many ways had Palin to thank for his primary win, since she had urged Tea Party Express, with whom she has a close working relationship, to get involved in the race. The group poured money into the state, granting Miller visibility he might not have otherwise obtained. But Palin has not played as active a role in the race as she could have, especially given her proximity to Miller. Her husband Todd organized a fundraiser for Miller toward the beginning of his campaign, and Palin recorded a robocall for him that went out right before the primary, in addition to lending her still image to Tea Party Express ads.

In late September, Todd Palin sent Miller a sharp email berating him for not fully endorsing a potential presidential run by Sarah Palin. The email was leaked--some speculated by Miller's campaign--and led to a flurry of negative news stories about the Palins.

Last night, then, was the first time Sarah Palin appeared on stage with Miller or spoke formally on his behalf. Wearing jeans and a pink hoodie, Palin addressed a several-hundred-person audience in downtown Anchorage for about 15 minutes. She lavished praise upon Miller and his military background, and launched multiple barbs at Murkowski, with whom she has a notoriously charged history.

Miller is "running against two candidates who are in complete denial about the problems that big growing government causes for you all," Palin said. "One of them is an out-of-touch liberal and the other happened to be the mayor of Sitka." Democrat Scott McAdams is the mayor of Sitka. 

Palin did not stay long, however. After her speech, according to the New York Times, "she stood away from the stage with her husband and others for a few minutes, chatting, taking pictures and scrolling through her phone as Mr. Miller spoke. He never thanked her publicly and she appeared to leave before he was finished."

Whether or not Palin is an asset to candidates, however, is a contested question. The former governor is generally unpopular; according to a new ABC/Washington Post poll, only 39 percent of registered voters see Palin favorably and just 27 percent think she's qualified to be president. Even among her conservative base, many voters do not think she's qualified for the presidency. The poll found that only 47 percent of Republicans, 45 percent of conservatives, and 48 percent of Tea Party supporters found her qualified.

These numbers may be a bit higher in Alaska, of course. An April poll from the Alaska firm Dittman Research found that 46 percent of Alaskans viewed Palin favorably, and 52 percent viewed her unfavorably. Among Alaskan Republicans, who will be choosing between Miller and Murkowski next week, Palin's favorability jumped to 71 percent.

Bottom line: Palin's appearance is unlikely to hurt Miller. It could definitely energize the final days of his campaign, spurring turnout efforts and perhaps prompting last-minute donations to Tea Party Express, which is soliciting funds to help candidates like Miller reach the finish line. But it is also unlikely to spark enough publicity to wash away the negative trail Miller's left over the past few weeks.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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