Fairbanks North Star Borough records released by court order Tuesday revealed Alaska Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller to have lied when first confronted about his misuse of borough computers, but pollsters tracking the state's contentious three-way battle between the Fairbanks attorney, incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democratic challenger Scott McAdams weren't sure it would mean much come Election Day.
Polls have put Miller and Murkowski, a write-in candidate who lost the primary, in a dead heat for the seat with McAdams lagging just behind. None are expected to win a majority of votes in the Nov. 2 election.
"I think someone will win in the high 30s," pollster Ivan Moore said Tuesday. A respected CNN poll released Oct. 20 found Miller and Murkowski tied at 37 percent among "likely voters." In the poll with a 3 percent margin of error, Murkowski led 38 percent to 36 percent among "registered voters," but the difference is so small as to be statistically meaningless. McAdams trailed at 23 percent with only 3 percent of the electorate undecided.
Moore said other polls seem to indicate Miller has a lock on 30 percent of voters. Pollster Dave Dittman generally agreed. And both expected that 30 percent to remain with Miller come hell or high water, which appears to put the election in the hands of that seven percent with a few lingering questions about Miller and some Democrats heavily courted by Murkowski. Nobody seemed sure on Tuesday where they might go.
Everything, Moore said, would appear to hinge on public perceptions of Miller's behavior while a part-time attorney for the borough, and that is hard to judge. Some of the reactions were, however, predictable.
Competitors' campaigns react
"I know Joe has been trying to downplay this, but quite frankly, this is pretty shocking," said Murkowski spokesman Steve Wackowski. "The fact is that, in his own words, he admitted lying, covering it up, lying again, and then admitting to the whole thing.
"I'm a captain in the Air Force Reserve. I took the same oath he did. Quite frankly, I'm stunned. I would be kicked out of the military for something like this."
Murkowski has tried to make an issue of Miller's seeming abandonment of the "gentleman" part of the "officer and gentleman" training ingrained in graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
While McAdams has attempted to stay out of the mudslinging, deputy campaign manager Leslie Ridle said questions like those being asked about Miller are legitimate.
"Do they accept a piece of land for less than the market value, or do they use their co-workers' computers without permission?" Ridle asked. "It goes to character. Anything you do in your personal life gives voters an idea of how you would act in your professional life, including in the Senate. This is a job interview. If that's the kind of thing you heard from references, you might think twice about hiring someone for a job."
Murkowski was in 2006 accused of engaging in a sweetheart land deal with a family friend for property along the Kenai River. She bought the land at the assessed value but ended up selling it back to businessman Bob Penney after questions were raised about how she got land for assessed value when it would have been worth far more on the open market. Murkowski has come under attack for the deal (which she continues to defend as fair) off and on ever since. And now Miller is under fire for his behavior, which has leaked out bit by bit.
Records were released by court order
The records released by the borough Tuesday in response to a lawsuit filed by Alaska Dispatch and joined by other news organizations add weight to allegations that surfaced this fall about Miller having found himself in hot water while working for the borough. A lawsuit became necessary after Miller backed away from public expressions of desire to release the documents.
"I lied about accessing all of the computers," Miller confesses in one e-mail contained in 60 pages of documents ordered released by a Fairbanks court. "I then admitted about accessing the computers, but lied about what I was doing."
What Miller was doing in 2008, according to his admissions, was getting onto the computers of co-workers, going to the Joe Miller website, and then voting as others on a Miller poll on whether the Republican party should dump state chairman Randy Ruedrich. Miller, then-Gov. Sarah Palin and others were trying to oust Ruedrich but failed. After former Fairbanks borough mayor Jim Whitaker first revealed Miller was involved in "proxy voting" on Ruedrich's fate, the party chairman defended the candidate, saying Whitaker's claim had to be mistaken because there was no vote taking place. Asked Tuesday about Miller's online poll, Ruedrich said, "I think that's characteristic of all electronic polls; they're pretty meaningless. It's what everybody does. They try to kite the results."
Whether the voters care is yet to be decided.