Joe Miller Eyes Begich's Senate Seat

Alaskan voters haven’t reelected a Democrat to the Senate since Mike Gravel in 1976.

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So the stakes are high for the Democratic Party and Senator Begich. He raised $948 thousand in the first quarter of this year, and he’s sitting on more than $1.5 million dollars in campaign cash.

So whoever wins the Republican primary will face a formidable incumbent.

Miller announced late Sunday in a blog post he’s forming an exploratory committee; that allows him to raise money for the campaign and test the waters. It’s not an official entrance.

“We have to remember that the goal republicans have is replacing Mark Begich,” Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell said Monday.

Treadwell, who announced his exploratory committee earlier this year, said Miller called him Sunday to tell him the news.

Treadwell expected Miller to jump into the race, and said while primaries are important to select the strongest candidate, he’s worried a protracted one could leave Senator Begich in a better position.

“Some people sent me notes after Joe made his announcement saying that’s the best gift Mark Begich could have gotten.  I don’t know,” he said.

Treadwell said he does not know when he’ll make a final decision. But he said polls have shown him leading Miller and competing well with Begich. He didn’t say who paid for and conducted the polls.

Treadwell will visit D.C. this week. He said he’ll meet with Congressional leaders, but he would not say whether he’s meeting with the National Republican Senatorial Committee; the wing of the GOP tasked with winning more seats in the Senate.

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said Miller’s move is no surprise, and she expects a more crowded primary field.

According to Duffy, Miller will soon learn that being a candidate today is much different than in 2010.

“He was a Tea Party candidate in the first cycle that Tea Party candidates really came to the fore in Senate races,” she said. “They had the element of surprise then. And that’s not the case this time.”

That, Duffy said, means Miller’s primary opponents will try and define just who he is. Miller will have to defend his past actions and statements; something he didn’t have to do much of in 2010.

A spokesperson with the NRSC said it’s too soon to support any one candidate. Miller met with the head of that group earlier this year.

Duffy said the NRSC has backed off supporting candidates in primary campaigns. And she expects the same unless Governor Sean Parnell joins the race.

With Miller, Duffy said, the NRSC has learned its lesson.

“My sense is that their experience they had with Joe Miller in 2010 would probably lead them not to embrace his candidacy so quickly,” she said.

In his announcement, Miller wrote the 2014 race is “not just about beating Mark Begich, it’s about saving the country.”

Mainstream Republicans have bristled at Miller’s rhetoric and often incendiary language Neither Miller, nor his 2010 foe, Senator Lisa Murkowski, would comment for this story.

Senator Begich, who styles himself an independent on his campaign site, said he takes any candidate seriously. He didn’t say if he’d prefer to face Miller or Treadwell.

“Whoever,” he said Monday afternoon. “Whoever the Republican party decides to anoint over there is their decision.”

The GOP primary isn’t until August 2014; three months before the winner of that race will face Senator Begich in the general election.