JUNEAU - After nearly two weeks of silence and a vow not to talk about his personal life, Alaska Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller has acknowledged he was disciplined and lost three days pay for misusing government computers while employed by the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
"I had a naive expectation of privacy," he said Monday in a statement to The Associated Press. "But ultimately I decided I had to address these questions in order to combat the rumors, lies and innuendoes that the media was circulating."
The tea party favorite made the admission first Sunday night during a KTUU-TV debate. He told a statewide audience that he's not perfect and that he has learned from his mistakes. Miller said he wants to move on and focus on the issues of the race.
He attributed his declaration earlier this month - that he wouldn't answer questions about his past - in part to his not being a "professional politician."
His contrite admission came after questions had been raised about his seven years working for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
A former borough mayor, Jim Whitaker, has said that Miller was nearly fired for using borough computers to engage in what he understood was "proxy voting," in an effort to oust GOP chairman Randy Ruedrich in 2008.
Ruedrich has said that process didn't exist at the state convention, but Whitaker told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner the term came up in a meeting with borough officials who had briefed him on the matter and that he had been careful "not to speculate and not to overstate."
Miller said only that he had participated in a private poll during his lunch hour.
With a week until election day, Miller is seeking to overcome a series of other campaign hiccups and disclosures - such as his family's past receipt of the types of government benefits he has bristled against as a candidate - that critics have used to paint him as a hypocrite or extremist.
Miller calls that portrayal skewed or flat-out wrong. And he's accused his opponents - GOP rival Sen. Lisa Murkowski in particular - of trying to distract voters' attention from the weighty issues facing the state and nation, issues that he says won the primary against Murkowski by focusing on "petty" issues from his past. Murkowski is running as a write-in candidate.
"I've gone through trials. I've not always had a silver spoon," Miller said during the debate. "I've had challenges in life and that gives them (Alaskans) an empathy for where I'm at, and I think that's a value that I bring to the table."
Polls suggest a tight race among Miller, Murkowski and Democrat Scott McAdams.
Millions of dollars are being poured into the race.
And Sarah Palin, whose political action committee has given Miller $10,000 this cycle, emerged Monday after keeping a relatively low profile to take aim at Murkowski, with whom she's tangled politically in the past. A Palin Facebook post, used in parts to talk up Miller, attacks Murkowski and make a fundraising appeal, was entitled: "Lisa's Gall vs. Joe's Honor."
"I have never seen a candidate stoop as low as was seen last night in Alaska's senatorial debate," she said, adding later: "I find it astonishing that a sitting U.S. Senator from Alaska would challenge the honor of a decorated combat veteran."
That alludes to Murkowski asking Miller whether he believed his instructors and classmates at West Point would believe he had lived up to his code of honor in light of what she called his lies about her record during the primary and his acknowledgment he'd been disciplined at the borough.
Clive Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, believes Miller's inexperience has contributed to the way in which he handled life in the media spotlight following his stunning upset of Murkowski and the tough questioning about his past.
This is Miller's first statewide run for public office; unlike McAdams, another new face on the political scene, Miller has a relatively limited record, having spent much of his career as an attorney. McAdams served for years as a school board member and later mayor of Sitka.
Still, Thomas believes Miller must be up front about his past and what many view as inconsistencies in the way he's lived his life and the positions he now advocates, particularly since he's running on the need to change Washington.
Kevin Hite, an independent voter from Anchorage, said the image Miller portrayed during the debate - that he's an Everyman, motivated to be in the race out of fear for the state's and country's future - is in line with what Hite has come to know volunteering for Miller the past several months.
While Hite said it's important to know about a candidate's past, he believes Miller has been treated unfairly in the level of digging that's gone on. Murkowski didn't admit to what some considered a sweetheart land purchase until she was later questioned about it, Hite said. Murkowski has said she thought she bought land several years ago for its fair value and later sold it back.
"They're attacking Joe for admitting things after the fact," Hite said. "She's doing the same thing."
While analysts consider Miller's staunchly conservative base solid, Miller must vie against Murkowski for Republican votes. And all three candidates are trying to win over independent voters who help to comprise the largest bloc of registered voters in the state, many of whom are undecided.
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