What's Joe Miller's motivation?

12/06/2010 06:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The math's against him and his own party says it's time to give up the fight, yet Joe Miller, who was bested by incumbent Lisa Murkowski on Nov. 2, isn't ready to end the intense political combat that got him to this point. Miller is now looking to the courts to give to him what was lost to the will of the people in the General Election -- one of Alaska's two U.S. Senate seats -- and with it the chance to occupy one of the most powerful jobs in the nation.

To date, Miller hasn't had much to say about what strategies are in play. Inquiries about his goals and what he hopes to achieve are deflected and met with a common refrain about how it's not about who wins or loses, but his desire to protect the "integrity" of the process.

"'The principle of the thing' is always the first refrain, and that may well be part of it," said political analyst Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center of Politics, via e-mail Tuesday.

So what other motivations may be lurking in the heart and mind of the man who came close enough to victory to send out Tweets about shopping for furniture while on a post-primary trip to Washington, D.C.? Miller's not saying much beyond he's in it for the principle of the matter. But plenty of other people are talking.

A brief history of Miller's legal fight

While he celebrated the will of the people after his primary win in August, Miller now claims the will of the people in the general election in November was overrun by a corrupt election process and the long-reaching influence of the Murkowski regime.

Miller had the fairy tale story coming out of the primary -- a David who came out of nowhere to slay an Alaskan Goliath. He beat Murkowski in a stunning upset, and the Republican Party of Alaska, following protocol, backed him from there on out as the people's nominee. But by November the tables had turned. Murkowski, who had to mount a long-shot write in campaign to stay in the race, was now the outsider. And against the odds, she pulled it off by securing more than 10,000 more votes than Miller.

Miller spared no time in throwing legal arguments at any possible vulnerability of the election process. He called election officials biased and said differences in the way ballots cast for regular candidates and write-in candidates are handled are unfair. He alleged voter fraud and sloppy management of voter sign-in at precincts. He challenged imperfect ballots and the state's authority to try to determine voter intent when determining which votes to keep and which ones to reject. If the state court doesn't rule his way, he has said he will resume the fight at the federal level.

Even if he's able to get imperfect ballots tossed out, Miller still trails Murkowski by at least 2,000 votes.

Besides providing jobs for election lawyers, why keep up the fight?

Possible strategy no. 1: The tea party likes a rebel

"To keep fighting looks good to the tea party activists, and in Miller's mind, could preserve his political options in the future," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor with the Cook Political Report, via e-mail Tuesday.

More than a third of voting Alaskans threw their support behind Miller, as did the state's (and now the nation's) mistress of political coups and take-back-the-country missives, Sarah Palin. But his political currency may be short lived if Miller drags out an unwinnable fight for too long.

"He may want to try again, maybe against Sen. Begich in 2014 or for Don Young's seat once he leaves the House. Appearing to be a bad sport does not aid any future effort by Miller," Sabato said.

"It's obvious to just about everyone that Murkowski won the election and will get the six-year Senate term," he said. "I'm sure that it is accepted privately by the Miller camp, no matter what they are saying publicly. These are smart people and they can count."

Possible strategy no. 2: Cripple the victor

Attorneys for the state of Alaska and for Murkowski have suggested that if the legal battle isn't settled quickly, Alaska is at risk of having its Senate seat remain vacant after the new session begins in January. That would be bad for Alaska, and potentially for Murkowski, they say, as she may lose rank and seniority on the very committees she used as a selling point to defend her worth to Alaskans during the campaign.