Is Joe Miller Hurting His Future?

By dragging out the 2010 election with lawsuits and a recount request, strategists say Joe Miller is shooting himself in the foot

Not many people expect Joe Miller to pull it out.

The once-frontrunning candidate filed suit in state court yesterday seeking to prevent Alaska from certifying Sen. Lisa Murkowski as the victor in his Senate race, this following another lawsuit already filed in federal court on Nov. 9., both seeking to overturn write-in ballots cast for Murkowski in which the incumbent Republican's name is misspelled, the plan being to narrow her lead before asking for a recount.

Even if Miller succeeds in overturning 8,000+ write-in ballots, he would still trail by over 2,100 entering a recount, and it seems unlikely that such a recount would supply him with a win, despite the myriad election irregularities (including opened or stuffed ballot boxes, and a cluster of write-in ballots all filled out by the same person) that his camp is alleging.

It's not so infeasible for a statewide recount to swing things by a couple thousand votes, but with so few total votes cast in Alaska, Miller appears to be hoping for the improbable: He'd need the results to swing by over .8 percent of total votes cast.

Is it a good idea for Miller to be contesting these results to the bitter end, after Murkowski has declared victory, and after the Alaska Republican Party has already called on him to concede?

No, according to many. Miller is damaging his public image and hurting his chances at winning future elections, according to a former senior Republican official close to Alaska politics.

"The longer he draws this out, the more he hurts himself for the future.," said one Alaska political strategist. "The term trainwreck accurately describes the Miller campaign."

The Anchorage Daily News ran an editorial urging him to admit defeat--"BOTTOM LINE: Voters chose Sen. Lisa Murkowski," the editors wrote, "Joe Miller should acknowledge the decision"--while the Fairbanks News-Miner and the Juneau Empire have argued against the basis of Miller's lawsuits.

Not that Miller's prospects are necessarily that great.

His next opportunity to run for statewide office will come in 2014, when Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is up for re-election. Begich's approval rating was measured at a stunningly low 35 percent in January by Public Policy Polling, though his fortunes could certainly change over the next four years.

Miller may or may not be a flash in the pan. He could have a shot at Begich's seat in four years, or he could find that the Tea Party zeitgeist has passed him by.

A confluence of lucky factors helped Miller become one of the biggest surprises of 2010 by winning the GOP primary over Murkowski: a riled-up conservative base that was eager to purge moderates from the GOP's ranks, the timely help of Tea Party Express, and Sarah Palin's endorsement. In four years, the climate may not be so favorable, and, while Begich was swept into office as the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R) faced a federal corruption trial (in a race that was close, despite it), Miller probably has some luck to thank for his success as well.

Other than the 2014 Senate race, Miller doesn't have many options. The state's governor, the Republican Sean Parnell, will be up for re-election that year too, but challenging him would be tough. Parnell is supported by Palin and was backed by the Club for Growth in his 2008 congressional campaign; Miller couldn't count on Palin and the Tea Party crowd to get excited about ousting him, barring a nosedive in Parnell's popularity on the right.

Having acquired a political base roughly equivalent to one third of the state's voting public, the numbers would currently suggest that Miller could mount a viable campaign against Begich, though it's somewhat pointless to speculate four years ahead of time.

But if Miller is to run for Senate again, or for anything else for that matter, dragging out the 2010 election probably won't help him.