Joe Miller gambles with Alaska Senate challenge

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Joe Miller is fighting as though Alaska’s Senate race has yet to occur.

He has maintained a presence on TV, conservative radio and the Internet, casting himself as a righteous reformer in the face of an out-of-control establishment. He is still raising money and speaking out against his opponent.

Miller has mounted a vigorous post-election campaign as his lawyers wage a last-ditch legal challenge to throw out write-in ballots for Sen. Lisa Murkowski in their hard-fought Senate race.

A hand count of ballots showed Murkowski ahead by 10,328 votes, or 2,169 when excluding votes challenged by Miller’s campaign. Miller wants a judge to set standard of review for the ballots and a possible recount.

While there’s hope this could swing the election in his favor, Miller insists that it’s less about win-or-lose now and more about principle, ensuring the law is upheld and that the election is fair.

Miller told The Associated Press that he’s “more convinced than ever that this is the right fight, not for Joe Miller but for Alaska.”

The legal challenge has left the Senate seat in limbo just one month before the race’s winner is scheduled to be sworn in.

If the fight drags on, Alaska could be left with only one senator until the dispute is resolved. That means the next Senate would be a 99-member body as it returns to take up important matters like tax cuts. Murkowski could also lose her leadership positions if the new Senate convenes without her, her attorneys warn.

People who know Miller describe the Ivy League-educated lawyer and Army veteran as driven, emotional, focused on the mission at hand.

He knows what’s at stake in fighting on, including running the risk of looking like a sore loser or hurting his chances of running for office again, perhaps against U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, in 2014. But he insists he doesn’t care.

“My only call is to be faithful to what I believe is the right thing to do,” he said, “and I’ll trust God for the ultimate outcome.”

Miller relentlessness has occurred despite calls from his own party to concede and Murkowski having already declared herself the victor. Some of his highest-profile supporters have either gone silent or moved on and urged him to do the same.

Miller won the Republican nomination in the August primary with the backing of former Gov. Sarah Palin and the tea party crowd. Murkowski responded by becoming the first politician to win a write-in U.S. Senate campaign in more than 50 years.

Miller believes the state’s running of the election favored Murkowski, who mounted a write-in campaign after losing her primary to Miller.

State law calls for write-in ballots to have the candidate’s last name or name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy written next to the filled-in ballot oval and Miller believes that standard should have been adhered to strictly. But the state used discretion in determining voter intent, counting ballots with misspellings toward Murkowski’s tally — a practice it has defended as being in line with case law.

A federal judge, calling both interpretations plausible, blocked certification of the race pending resolution of Miller’s complaint. The judge sent the matter to state court and a hearing is set for Wednesday.

That decision buoyed Miller supporters, deflated after the count of write-in votes went for Murkowski.

The glimmer of hope is reflected in a banner on the website for the tea party-style Conservative Patriots Group, which reads: “We are keeping our fingers crossed for Joe Miller.” South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund PAC has reported raising more than $150,000 for Miller’s legal bills, and a spokesman says DeMint remains behind Miller “100 percent.”

“You can say it’s a long shot but we’re still in the fight,” said Bill Peck of Maryland, who served as a ballot observer for Miller. “And I think we have a strong case.”

The state GOP thinks otherwise. Chairman Randy Ruedrich, who publicly supported Miller after his primary triumph, has called on him to “respect the will of the voters” and concede. Both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Republican National Committee, once vocal backers of Miller, have fallen silent since the last votes were tallied in mid-November.

“The election is over; the state should certify it as soon as it’s legally allowed to do so, and we should move on to other elections,” state GOP spokesman Casey Reynolds said. “Dragging it on really doesn’t serve any real purpose.”

Miller, joined by Palin and others in an effort to oust Ruedrich from his post in 2008, said he considers it an “honor and a privilege” to have Ruedrich fight him. Given the state party’s “history of supporting corrupt practices and corrupt politicians,” he said Ruedrich’s opposition “means I am doing something right.”

Miller’s camp has complained about the state moving up the date for hand counting write-in ballots by eight days, saying it made it impossible to get the full complement of ballot watchers to Juneau in time to oversee the start of the process. Murkowski has claimed no hardship.

Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees elections, wanted the date moved up to allow more time for the counting to occur and any challenges to take place.

As for the court case, Miller’s attorneys opposed the expedited schedule, wanting to ensure they had time to comb through ballots and precinct logs to ensure there weren’t widespread voting problems. Attorneys for the state want a ruling this week to allow time for appeal and for the race to be certified before next month’s swearing in. They call Miller’s concerns about voting irregularities unfounded.

Miller was widely considered the favorite in the race, with his call for a smaller federal government and greater state’s rights resonating. But he suffered from a series of high-profile campaign stumbles — the handcuffing of a journalist by his security detail after a town hall and the disclosure that he’d lied and had been disciplined for using computers at his government job for political purposes.

“This has been a bruising process but there is a price to be paid for stepping out and advocating a fundamental change of direction,” he said.

Political science professor Jerry McBeath doesn’t think Miller is doing himself great political damage so long as he’s willing to accept the decision of the state courts.

If he ultimately loses this race, and chooses to run again, he said Miller could do it without the GOP backing. After all, Murkowski did.

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