Murkowski Fights Two Opponents: Joe Miller and Tea Party Express

By Nicole Allan

An unusual campaign narrative is developing in Alaska: incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski is going head-to-head with a proxy for her competitor rather than the man himself.

It's unlikely that the previously unknown Joe Miller could have stolen the Republican nomination out from under Murkowski without the help of Tea Party Express, a California-based group that has helped orchestrate some of the season's biggest primary upsets. After the group announced it would be a key presence in the general election campaign (it said yesterday that it would spend "six figures" to defeat the sitting senator), Murkowski has gone negative on it with the zeal many think she should have channeled into her primary against Miller.

The video below, released on YouTube by Murkowski's campaign,* mentions Miller only in a reference to Tea Party Express's spending on his primary campaign. Everyday-looking Alaskans express outrage that an outside group is gunning for "our seat." "Well, whose Senate seat would it be, Alaska's or California's?" asks one woman indignantly.

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But Murkowski's focus on Tea Party Express may be distracting her from her actual opponent on Nov. 2. Her first attack ad against Miller, a radio spot, backfired when a radio host cited in the ad endorsed Miller the day her campaign released it.

Over the next four weeks, it will be interesting to see whether Murkowski zeroes in on Miller or maintains her focus on Tea Party Express. After all, Miller's name will be the one on the November ballot.

Steve Wackowski, Murkowski's spokesman, says that her campaign is planning to run several TV ads in the coming weeks, and that these ads will contain a mix of "educational messaging" -- instructions on how to write in Murkowski's name, for example -- and more "proactive messaging."

*The Atlantic Politics Channel generally does not write about web videos released by campaigns, but the videos below illustrate a key trend in the Senate race in Alaska.

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