Redemption makes for a powerful story. So does being an underdog who claims to speak truth to power. Of the three candidates running to be the Republican nominee in the U.S. Senate race–Joe Miller, Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan–only Miller can claim both. Both Treadwell and Sullivan have much going for them, but they don’t have the power of those two stories.
This wasn’t lost on the fired up crowd of as many as 200 on Monday night at the Wasilla Lake Resort where they gathered for Miller’s official campaign kickoff. As most know, Miller ran in 2010, won the primary, and then suffered a devastating loss to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in bid. It was a brutal campaign, and Miller’s reputation took a beating.
But some things are different this time. Miller’s official campaign kickoff in 2010 was in the town square in Anchorage. About 12 people showed, said Mark Fish, who has been one of Miller’s main volunteers from the beginning. “I think I begged six of my libertarian friends to come,” Fish said.
And Miller appears to be softer and more relaxed this time around. On the stage on Monday, he was even able to poke fun of the fact that in 2010, a member of his “security” detail handcuffed Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger at a campaign event. Referring to his young children who were sitting next to him who are taking martial arts, Miller said that this time “we decided to have in-house security.”
It was probably the loudest laugh line of the night from a crowd that wasn’t shy about laughing, as well as yelling out an occasional “Amen,” or “Say it like it is Joe.”
The event lasted more than 2 hours, and featured national radio talk show host Lars Larson. Tim Macy, vice chairman of the Gun Owners of America, flew up that morning from California for the event. Adele Morgan and Paul Wainamo sang songs about God and country. Speeches about liberty, guns and God were made. It was a classic Wasilla tea party, with some beer on tap.
Before Miller spoke, they showed the above three minute video about Miller and his life. It’s easy to forget that Miller actually has an impressive resume. He went to West Point and has a law degree from Yale. He was awarded the Bronze Star in Desert Storm. He has a masters in economics from UAF. And he was raised by poor parents in Kansas. He has eight kids, and is now a grandfather. And he now will have run twice for U.S. Senate and has developed a large following.
Another thing that’s changed since 2010: Miller has developed a stump speech that is actually digestible. He still talks with passion about repealing ObamaCare, abolishing the IRS, and federal overreach. But he doesn’t go on and on. And on Monday, he peppered his speech with the personal. He told a story about being a little boy with a disfigured lip from a fall. He alluded to being bullied because of it. He talked about working for his father’s bookstore and mowing lawns to get enough money to pay for an operation to fix it. He raised the money, took the bus to Wichita, and got his lip fixed.
He was only in 7th grade.
The money is going to be tight for Miller. Although all told he has about $300,000 cash on hand, he only raised $101,000 last quarter. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell has less cash on hand, but he has name recognition and long history in the state. The big money is on former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan, who raised $1.4 million last quarter alone and has about $2 million on hand.
But then again, Miller won the last primary with only $300,000 against Murkowski’s huge war chest.
Miller didn’t mention Sullivan in his speech, but it’s clear that he’s going to attack him as the establishment candidate who is supported by those partaking in “generational theft,” and by the “same forces” that fought him so hard in the last election.
I asked him what’s different since the last election and why he thinks he can win now when he didn’t then.
He pointed to the crowd. “Look at this,” he said. “This is different.”
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org