A national tea party group on Wednesday endorsed Alaska Republican Joe Miller, hoping to give the longshot candidate a boost in his primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
The Tea Party Express said it's willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Miller, a Fairbanks attorney and self-styled "constitutional conservative" who is making his first statewide run for public office.
The activist organization gave Miller a closer look after Sarah Palin endorsed him earlier this month, Tea Party Express spokesman Levi Russell said.
Palin, a former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, is a darling of the broader tea party movement, which advocates less government, fiscal restraint and personal freedoms.
Russell said his group felt it important to get involved in the Senate race to try to level the playing field with Murkowski, the better-known, better-financed incumbent. The Tea Party Express claims about 375,000 members nationwide, with about 1,000 in Alaska, Russell said.
"Maybe a lot of voters don't know who Joe Miller is and don't feel he can win," Russell said. "We want voters to take a second look."
Jerry McBeath, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the group's involvement should make the August primary more competitive, but he believes Murkowski will still win.
Murkowski, Alaska's senior senator, has worked her way up the Senate hierarchy and will campaign on what's she done and can do from her position, he said.
Miller's a good candidate, he said, but "I don't think this will do anything more (than) chip a few points away from her."
Miller, in a message on Twitter, said that he was "deeply humbled and honored" by the endorsement.
Murkowski campaign spokesman Steve Wackowski said the senator's conservative credentials are clear. He cited her opposition to federal efforts to overhaul health insurance, "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association, opposition to raising the debt limit and repeated votes to freeze non-defense discretionary spending.
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