Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Joe Miller's Return Means for the GOP: Alaska Senate could be the Christie v. Buono of 2014

Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski debate just prior to the 2010 midterms. According to polling, Miller would lose to incumbent Mark Begich in a landslide in 2014. Photo by Al Grillo, courtesy of Corbis.

Caught up in a media world that that not only longs for, but demands competitive, theatrical political races, it's easy to gloss-over those contests lacking in the "drama" department. And what makes a better political contest than a close one? One where candidates are evenly matched, funded to the tee, and stir the emotions of their supporters and detractors?

But alas, the soap-opera contest cannot always be. Landslides are occasionally inevitable (usually involving a particularly strong incumbent or an unusually weak or unpopular challenger).

Sometimes, however, they're entirely avoidable. And yesterday, the 2014 Alaska Senate race took one big step closer to becoming one of those avoidable landslides for the GOP.

Yes, the Alaska Senate race features a one-term, relatively unknown Senator defending his seat for the first time in a state with a decidedly Republican slant. It's certainly not a state where you'd expect a freshman Democrat, elected by one point in a wave-Presidential year, to be in a position to win a midterm reelection overwhelmingly.

But fortunately for Senator Mark Begich (D-AK), the only Republican challenger making clear signals about running is a man who is despised by his state's general electorate, and underwater with members of his own party... Joe Miller.

So what happened to the man who came painstakingly close to becoming Senator just two and a half years ago? What caused the guy who defeated incumbent Lisa Murkowski in a Republican primary to become so disliked within his own party?

A series of ethical and ideological controversies that emerged near the tail-end of his almost-successful 2010 Senate campaign seem to be the catalyst, and his narrow Senate loss and subsequent law-suit to challenge the results did little to stop the bleeding.

Though whatever the cause of the once-rising Conservative stars' fall, the consequences seem pretty clear. Alaskans say they would vote overwhelmingly to reelect Democrat Mark Begich if their second option is Republican Joe Miller.

Not only that, but Alaska REPUBLICANS would just assume have anybody else - any potential Republican candidate - as their nominee in 2014.

The chart below documents every potential Alaska 2014 Senate Republican primary match-up involving Joe Miller from every pollster to test the race thus far (and the pickings are pretty slim; they're limited to just Public Policy Polling and Harper Polling - both partisan firms). But the results are remarkably similar:

In nearly every possible Alaska GOP primary match-up one could imagine, no matter the ideology or number of candidates running against him, Miller winds up as the LAST choice of Alaska conservatives. Meanwhile Gov. Sean Parnell is the most formidable 2014 Alaska Republican in the primary, with Sarah Palin being the second most formidable.

But it's not just the fact that Alaska Republicans would prefer other candidates to Joe Miller; it's the fact that they simply don't like the guy. The chart below documents the favorability rating of every possible GOP candidate taken this year, among Alaska Republicans only:

While potential GOP candidates Treadwell, Palin, and Parnell are well received by their party's voters, Miller struggles, never reaching much higher than 1/3 approval....again, among his OWN PARTY.

But for the sake of argument, lets put aside for a moment the obvious difficulties Miller would face in a Republican Primary, and assume he makes it to the general to take on Sen. Begich. Then what?

Well, things certainly don't get any rosier for Joe:

TWO pollsters have tested a Joe Miller vs. Mark Begich race, and BOTH find Begich winning in a cake-walk. And I'm not talking about your run of the mill double-digit landslide - I'm talking about a Chris Christie vs. Barbara Buono style 30 point rut.

The good news for Republicans? As the chart above shows, it doesn't have to be this way. There are a number of possible Alaskans that could give Begich a run for his money. But simply put, Joe Miller is no longer one of them. There was a time when his future in Alaska politics looked bright. 2014 is NOT that time. 

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