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Miller takes aim at Murkowski in AK Senate debate

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BECKY BOHRER | October 28, 2010 02:43 PM EST | AP

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska Senate hopeful Joe Miller focused on GOP rival Sen. Lisa Murkowski during the last debate before next week's election, seeking to shore up his conservative base and win over voters following a series of high-profile campaign stumbles.

Miller, who beat Murkowski in the August primary, used a candidate-to-candidate question during the Alaska Public Broadcasting debate Wednesday to ask Democrat Scott McAdams to compare his experience as a local official to that of Murkowski's when she first took office.

McAdams served eight years as a school board member and mayor. Murkowski was a state legislator when her father appointed her to his long-held Senate seat when he was elected governor in 2002. Murkowski has criticized McAdams as too inexperienced for the job.

Miller also challenged Murkowski positions and past votes, including those related to illegal immigration and cap-and-trade legislation.

Murkowski fired back, questioning, as an example, Miller's stated respect for South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who has provided Miller help in his campaign. She said DeMint has been "almost dogged" in fighting against the "Alaska agenda."

McAdams, too, focused much of his attention on Murkowski, questioning how often she has voted with her party. He has suggested she puts party over policy – a claim she flatly disputes, saying she puts Alaska's interests first. He took issue with that, saying she has voted against some Alaska projects.

The back-and-forth underscores the tricky dynamic of the three-way race. Polls suggest it's tight; analysts believe the race could go to any of the three candidates – depending, in part, on who peaks when the votes are cast. There's also the uncertainty surrounding the write-in process – whether voters will have problems with it and how big a role challenges will play.

Miller's conservative base is considered by analysts solid; he's seeking to win over Republican voters from Murkowski. Murkowski and McAdams are vying for on-the-fence Democrats and all three are hoping for a share of independents.

Early in Wednesday's debate, Miller was asked about the contents of his personnel file from his time as a borough attorney. Records released by court order Tuesday, after The Associated Press and other news organizations sued, showed Miller admitted to lying about improperly using government computers in 2008, taken responsibility for that and been disciplined. The borough attorney said she viewed it as an isolated incident and that Miller had been under stress, the records showed.

Miller, a fiscal conservative and tea party favorite, previously acknowledged his family received the types of government benefits he has raised questions about as a candidate. He said they'd struggled for a time, as many people have, but said it had no bearing on the race.

He said Wednesday that he has learned in running for office that one's life "is an open book" and that the race has been uncomfortable for his family at times. But he said disclosures about his past haven't slowed his commitment to giving voice to Alaskans' concerns or affected his desire to serve.

Miller believes the federal government is on the brink of bankruptcy, that spending must be reined in and the powers of the federal government limited to those spelled out in the U.S. Constitution. Critics, including Murkowski and McAdams, have labeled some of his views extreme.

The debate touched on topics such as whether creationism should be taught in schools: Miller said yes, along with science; Democrat Scott McAdams and GOP write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski both said it shouldn't be.

They also answered questions about whether the Bush-era tax credits should be extended – Miller and Murkowski said yes; McAdams said not for the richest Americans but that he supports an extension for the middle class – and whether there should be exceptions for abortion in the case of incest and rape. Miller said no, McAdams and Murkowski said yes, though McAdams also believes abortion should be an issue left to the woman.

Miller believes the federal government should build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border; Murkowski said a wall isn't the "only answer," and agreed with McAdams that the government should, among other things, enforce the laws it has on the books related to illegal immigration.