ANCHORAGE - Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller said Republican Party support doesn't mean much in the final hours of his hotly contested race. He said at this point, it's the support of Alaskans that matter.
The tea party favorite is working to strengthen his support among conservatives and attract a broader base in seeking to fend off fierce, last-minute pushes by his opponents, Democrat Scott McAdams and GOP rival Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who's running as a write-in following her loss in the GOP primary to Miller.
He said the battle lies with independents, the largest bloc of registered voters in Alaska and critical to deciding the race. On Sunday, the candidates were making their pitches to voters at churches and town halls.
"We're out on the streets, we're working the crowd, we're making sure people hear the message" that the federal government must be reined in, Miller said after a Candidate Sunday service at an Anchorage mega-church, where candidates had tables in the lobby. Large trucks, bearing Miller campaign signs, were later seen fanning out across Alaska's biggest city.
Questions have been raised about whether a series of high-profile campaign hiccups - including the disclosure last week that Miller had lied about improperly using government computers while working as a borough attorney in 2008 - had eroded party support for Miller. Miller's campaign and supporters believe the incident, for which Miller was disciplined and took responsibility, was blown out of proportion.
Officials with both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and state GOP said Sunday that they stand behind Miller.
But Frank McQueary, chairman of the state GOP's standing rules committee, sent an e-mail to other Republican leaders Sunday questioning Miller's fitness to serve and whether Miller represents party values. He said Miller brings "nothing to the debate except the potential to make conservatives look foolish and shallow."
The race has caused divisions within the state GOP. Party rules now call for leaders to support the nominee or resign from their leadership posts, but McQueary said in an interview that the GOP may need to revisit that. He also thinks that once the election is over, the GOP "needs to do some self-assessment, as to what the Republican party in Alaska stands for."
Miller told reporters he faces opposition because he's a "reformer." While in the past he's distanced himself from the tea party label - preferring to be called a conservative - he said a win for him would also be a win for the tea party movement.
"This is a reform movement; the tea party's at the center of it, and absolutely, it is the move that is going to start the changes that are going to take this country by storm," he said, adding later: "The people, we the people, are going to move this country back to where it needs to be."
When asked about his ability to compromise, Miller said now's the time - with the federal government nearing bankruptcy - to stand firm, offer a "realistic view that what we have today is a government that's totally out of control." He said both parties are to blame for getting the country into a financial mess. He said the GOP needs to be brought back to its platform, or be challenged.