ANCHORAGE - Candidates are pulling no punches in their last-minute push for voters in today's primary.
The greatest proof of this is in the U.S. Senate race where Sarah Palin has re-emerged months after first endorsing "commonsense conservative" Joe Miller to urge Alaskans to support him and to oust Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski's not shying away, running a new radio spot of her own, called "Truth," in which she uses audio from a talk show host's tirade against Miller to show Miller as distorting her record on federal health care legislation.
"As a public official your integrity is everything. If people can't trust you, if constituents can't trust you and if your colleagues can't trust you, you really have very little to offer," Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Monday, as supporters waved signs at a busy Anchorage intersection. "And I have been very disappointed in the approach that Miller has taken, because I don't believe that he's demonstrated the level of integrity that I want to see in public officials."
That race is shaping up to be the main ticket on a ballot in which voters will choose their candidates for governor, U.S. House and lieutenant governor, and decide ballot measures that would ban use of public money in lobbying and require parental notification for minors to obtain abortions.
Murkowski's no stranger to tough races; she overcame simmering resentments over her father's appointment of her to his old Senate seat in 2002 to defeat Democrat Tony Knowles and win the seat outright in 2004. But she had help in doing so: strong support from the rest of Alaska's congressional delegation, including Sen. Ted Stevens, who touted her as an integral part of the team. Stevens planned to join Murkowski in the final days of this campaign. He died in a plane crash Aug. 9.
She also said that 2004 was a "fair" fight, and that she never would have thought of calling out one of her opponents - in the primary or general - for lying.
Murkowski has made the case that seniority matters and that she's in a position with her roles on the energy and appropriations committees to ensure Alaskans' interests are looked after. But Miller has countered that she's part of the problem in an out-of-control Washington, and he's stood behind his contention that she flip-flopped on her support for repealing the health care overhaul in spite of her vehement denial of that and her record.
Of Murkowski's new radio spot, Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto said: "If that's what they're stooping to, they must feel it's (the race is) also close."
Miller's gotten some big-name help in making his first statewide public run for office.
The Tea Party Express, which has been crisscrossing Alaska and bombarding the airwaves, says it's spent at least $550,000 to help Miller; Mike Huckabee and conservative talk show hosts have touted him; and Palin followed a Friday Facebook show-of-support - in which she called Miller a "man of the people, endorsed by the people" and showed off a Miller sign in her drive - with a robocall declaring Miller has "the backbone to confront Obama's radical agenda."
Jerry McBeath, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said he's surprised that Palin, who's been endorsing conservative candidates around the country, hasn't invested more "attention and support" in this race, in her home state - especially if she wanted to use this race to flex her political muscle. Palin PAC did give Miller $5,000.
The big push for candidates Monday was on getting out the vote.
Over the last six years, primary turnout has ranged from 28 percent in 2004 to 40 percent in 2008. It was 35 percent in 2006, the year Palin won the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Her successor, Sean Parnell, faces challengers in the GOP primary, including Anchorage attorney Bill Walker and former legislator Ralph Samuels. It's a two-man race on the Democratic side, between former lawmaker Ethan Berkowitz and state Sen. Hollis French.