Tea Party, Sarah Palin Endorsed Candidate Headed For Defeat In Alaska

Sarah Palin's decision to back a long-shot candidate in the GOP Senate primary in Alaska didn't exactly work out as planned.

Back in June, Sarah Palin made some news when she decided to endorse long-shot Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller over Lisa Murkowski in Alaska. Palin’s endorsement was followed quickly by an endorsement for Miller from the nation’s leading Tea Party organization. While both the Tea Party Express and Palin have stepped into the race to help with fundraising and campaigning, it’s fairly obvious that Miller will go down to defeat, and Alex Guitterez at Slate takes a look at the reasons why:

Tuesday is likely to be a disappointment to Palin and the Tea Party Express, which has spent more than $400,000 since June on radio and television ads attacking Murkowski. Fresh off its Nevada primary victory with Sharron Angle, the Tea Party Express was looking for both an appealing challenger and a sufficiently complacent incumbent. Murkowksi fit the role in part because of her record with earmarks and her reputation for occasionally working with Democrats. “We just felt that Joe Miller basically lines up better with Alaskan voters and the conservative kind of frontier feeling of Alaska,” says Tea Party Express political director Bryan Shroyer.

Many Alaskans don’t exactly feel that way. In part because Alaska has weathered the recession better than most states and because even conservative Republicans realize the importance of federal funding in the state, “I don’t think the Tea Party movement has much currency in Alaska,” says Ivan Moore, an independent pollster based in Anchorage. Moore’s poll in July showed Miller down by 32 points, and other polls have come up with similar numbers. “From the very beginning, he has positioned himself so far to the right of the ideological spectrum and attached himself to the Tea Party movement, which even in Alaska is perceived as being a pretty extreme right organization,” Moore says.

And Palin’s endorsement hasn’t helped, Moore adds. According to a Dittman Research poll conducted in April, 52 percent of Alaskans hold a negative opinion of Palin. “When someone with those kinds of numbers endorses someone for public office, believe me, the effect is on the whole negative,” says Moore.

Beyond Palin’s endorsement, though, it’s fairly clear that Miller hasn’t exactly run a competent campaign, and when you’re running against a Murkowski in Alaska, that’s a bad thing:

The Miller campaign has also been plagued by setbacks and embarrassments of its own making. On Aug. 8, with the primary just more than two weeks away, then-campaign manager Paul Bauer went on Facebook and accused a University of Alaska College Republicans chapter of being Murkowski’s “uneducated puppets” after discovering that the club had hosted a meet-and-greet for the senator. “We don’t take too kindly to that for the work we do in school and outside of school,” says Jeremiah Campbell, a University of Alaska senior and the College Republicans’ communications director. The group never officially supported Murkowski and has a policy of not endorsing candidates for the primary.

The spat then became talk-radio fodder. Stieren asked aloud on his show who would be idiotic enough to lash out at young people who work for free on Republican campaigns, and Bauer called in to defend himself. The feud culminated in a barroom argument later that week, caught on videotape and (unsurprisingly) posted on YouTube, between Stieren and Bauer’s wife in which she threatened to “bury you alive.” Within 72 hours, Bauer was off Miller’s campaign.

The most important, thing, though, is the realization that the Tea Party message of limited government and less Federal spending does not necessarily resonate nationwide:

The other complicating factor for Miller is Alaska’s reticence to fully embrace the Tea Party’s central message of slashing government spending and influence. Like most Tea Party-backed candidates, Miller has taken up the mantle of the anti-Washington, anti-establishment politician who will root out wasteful spending on the nation’s capitol.

“The Tea Party movement just isn’t very strong up here, which I guess is a bit ironic,” said Moore.

The relationship between Alaskans and the federal government is a complicated one. Washington’s influence has, at times, stood in the way of the state’s economic priorities as well as buttressed them. And polls indicate a clear frustration on the part of many Alaska voters over the size of the federal budget deficit and concern over the growth of government.

But Alaska is also a state that has welcomed money from the federal government for infrastructure and transportation projects. And voters have rewarded politicians who have proven adept at securing those dollars. So it’s no surprise that Miller’s message might not resonate with Alaskans, who elected a man legendary for delivering earmarks for his home state to six terms in the Senate.

Which is why, just like West Virginia fondly remembered Robert Byrd at his funeral earlier this summer, Ted Stevens’ funeral in Anchorage focused at least partly what he brought home to the state over the years. A message of smaller government spending doesn’t necessarily play well in an area where Federal spending has become a way of life.

So, taking on a long-term incumbent with an anti-government message in a state that isn’t necessarily anti-government ? Not such a good idea.

Update 8/25/2010: Well, this will serve as a lesson in not engaging in post-election analysis until after people have voted.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dodd says:

    That kinda depends on what she planned, doesn’t it? It’s not like this is the first time she’s backed a lesser known longshot. I think it’s a mistake to assume she picks these guys for short term reasons. More likely, she just wants to raise their profiles and collect favours for the long term.

  2. Fair point, although I’m not sure what an unknown like Miller can ever do for Palin after losing big today.

    Honestly, I think this endorsement had as much to do with the well-known animosities between the Palin and Murkowski camps as it does any calculated political analysis.

  3. sam says:


    “More likely, she just wants to raise their profiles and collect favours for the long term.”

    Isn’t almost a commonplace now that that’s what she is doing? I mean, I’ve read a bunch of political analyses that say that’s her long-term strategy. If her picks win, more’s the better. But that’s collateral to her main plan, nice collateral for her, but not really essential.

  4. Wayne says:

    She backs a “long shot” and the candidate doesn’t win. Now we can draw big conclusion about her message not being popular. Give me a break.

    One thing about Palin’s endorsement is they do seem sincere. She is not like many politicians who back someone simply because they are ahead, part of the political establishment or have a good chance to win. Before some jump in with their B.S, some of the candidates she backs do fall into those categories but many do not. What is common among her endorsements is they are almost always the candidates that fall closer to her philosophy than the others.

    You may disagree with some or all of her philosophies but I find this endorsement strategy refreshing.

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    Wayne has it right, she’s choosing some long shots on principle and will see some of them lose. Keeping a score card in the manner many are doing misses the point. But with Palin some have always missed the point.

  6. Juneau: says:

    New Tina Fey line on SNL; ” I can see November from my house.”

  7. Juneau: says:

    Ooooooooh! What have we here? Looks like your celebration as a bit premature, eh? Miller up with all but the absentees reported – and CW says that he’ll increase that lead based on the typical distribution of absentee voters.

    I love the smell of tea in the morning. Smells like victory…

  8. John425 says:

    Earth to Mataconis: You wish!