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Political Notebook

Alaska race shows Tea Party movement’s next wave

Senate candidate Joe Miller, shown in Juneau, Alaska, in April, fears that the nation is veering toward insolvency. Senate candidate Joe Miller, shown in Juneau, Alaska, in April, fears that the nation is veering toward insolvency. (Christopher Eshleman/ Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via AP/ File)
Associated Press / July 5, 2010

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Joe Miller, the man who is challenging a fellow Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, is a graduate of Yale Law School and West Point, a decorated combat veteran, and a former judge.

Many members of the Tea Party movement share his disdain for Washington, its political gridlock, and its mounting debt, but not his credentials.

The message he conveys, though, is straight from the Tea Party movement script: He fears the nation is veering toward socialism and insolvency. He says Murkowski is too liberal.

To Miller, Alaska’s senior senator is complicit in the ballooning US debt and spending and has a voting record that would make a Democrat proud. His agenda includes cutting off federal dollars for the United Nations, gradually privatizing Medicare and Social Security, and disbanding federal departments that aren’t spelled out in the Constitution, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Education Department.

In an election year marked by Tea Party movement activism, Miller is part of the next wave of Republican primary candidates counting on a public weary of Washington and the stale economy and eager for fresh faces.

In more than a dozen primaries in the months ahead — among them Oklahoma, Kansas, Tennessee, Colorado, Arizona, Washington state, and Florida — Tea Party movement candidates are striving to upend the status quo.

Murkowski, a moderate and the first woman elected to Congress from Alaska, “is pretty safe, but you never know,’’ said Judy Eledge, president of the Anchorage chapter of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women.

Eledge, who is not aligned with either candidate, said Murkowski’s biggest challenge will be reassuring conservatives. On Friday, the senator announced her opposition to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan.

As a state legislator, Murkowski voted to raise alcohol taxes and against a bill to restrict publicly funded abortions. As a member of the GOP Senate leadership, she has displayed a centrist streak. Independents, who make up more than half of Alaska’s registered voters, can vote in the Aug. 24 primary, which analysts say will benefit the incumbent.

Miller has gotten a boost from endorsements from Sarah Palin, the Tea Party Express, and local Tea Party movement groups. But Murkowski has $2 million in the bank and a familiar name in Alaska politics. Her father, Frank Murkowski, was a governor and a senator.

Andrew Halcro, a former Alaska lawmaker and a supporter of Lisa Murkowski, said her moderate brand of politics fits well in a state where most voters don’t belong to any party.

But the prevailing sour mood poses a threat, he said. “If I’m Lisa, I am worried because these guys have an appealing message.’’

Senators blast GOP chair’s remarks about Afghanistan
Senators John McCain and Lindsey O. Graham spoke from the war zone yesterday to condemn the GOP chairman Michael Steele’s comment that Afghanistan was a “war of Obama’s choosing.’’

But neither GOP lawmaker was outraged enough to demand Steele’s resignation, as some other Republicans have done.

Steele’s remarks, a political gift to Democrats in a congressional election year, were captured Thursday on camera, during a Connecticut fund-raiser that was closed to the news media, and posted online. The comments would make it difficult for Republican candidates to have Steele campaign for them.

“I think those statements are wildly inaccurate and there’s no excuse for them,’’ McCain said. He said Steele sent the Arizona senator an e-mail saying the remarks “were misconstrued.’’

“I believe we have to win here. I believe in freedom. But the fact is that I think that Mr. Steele is going to have to assess as to whether he can still lead the Republican Party,’’ McCain told ABC’s “This Week.’’

Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he was “dismayed, angry, and upset. It was an uninformed, unnecessary, unwise, untimely comment.’’ He told CBS’s “Face the Nation’’: “This is not President Obama’s war. This is American’s war. We need to stand behind the president.’’

Asked whether Steele should quit, Graham said, “It’s up to him to see if he can lead the Republican Party. It couldn’t have come at a worst time.’’