Probably the biggest news that came out of Thursday night’s Senate GOP primary debate was that Joe Miller said that he would “without a doubt,” support which ever candidate wins the primary.
“We’ve got to get rid of Begich. There’s no question about it,” a surprisingly amiable Miller said at the debate, which was moderated by KTUU’s Steve MacDonald. It was the last debate before the primary on Tuesday. KTUU is the state’s largest television station.
Up until now, unlike Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell, the two other candidates in the race, Miller has declined to answer that question. When asked, he repeatedly segued back to the two candidates’ support of Lisa Murkowski when she lost to him in the 2010 GOP primary.
That’s led some to speculate that he would run as a third-party candidate were he to lose the primary. Miller has a relatively small but extremely passionate following. It’s a following that appears to be growing as he continues to win debates—as he did tonight—and continues to run a smooth campaign. For all of his bungles in 2010, he’s emerged a natural politician, and he’s done so without compromising his basic, arch-conservative principles.
If Miller were to make that third-party challenge, he would no doubt bring enough of his followers with him that it would likely guarantee Mark Begich’s reelection. As it is, his support will probably translate into at least a 5 percent-point gain for the GOP nominee. These are people who would have likely stayed home in November, said Marc Hellenthal, a long-time Anchorage-based political pollster, who isn’t working for any Senate candidate.
Some have speculated that Miller decided against a third-party run because he actually likes Dan Sullivan, the front-runner, who has consistently been ahead in the polls and who appears to be on track to win on Tuesday. They are both military men and, unlike Treadwell, they have steered clear of using Democratic attack lines against each other.
“I think that if they were sitting in a bar together, they would have a good time,” Hellenthal said about Miller and Sullivan. “I don’t think that’s true with Treadwell. It would be awkward,” he said.
And that awkwardness wouldn’t get any better after tonight. Treadwell called a recent inflammatory mailing sent out by Joe Miller about gun rights and immigration “racist.” It’s a comment that is not going to do anything to soothe tensions between the two, tensions which have appeared to escalate as the election season has gone on. Miller appeared taken aback by the comment. He accused Treadwell of buying into arguments from the left.
The accusation certainly won’t go down well with the tea party crowd–which has been debating the mailer. It’s a crowd that Treadwell has spent most of his campaign trying to cultivate.
Miller may indeed like Sullivan, but given that Miller is nothing if not wily, there’s likely some political calculation in his move. Some have speculated that Miller is setting himself up to run against Murkowski or Young in 2016, and he needs to show his allegiance to his party.
Mike Coons, former head of the Conservative Patriots Group and an ardent conservative Valley activist, is relieved. “Good,” he said when he heard the news. “I support Joe, no question. But we need unity,” he said.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org