- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

ANCHORAGE, Alaska | Joe Miller vowed to campaign for transferring power and control over resources from the federal government to Alaska and the other 49 states, and Democrats said the upset victory by the new Republican Senate nominee gives them new hope of competing for the seat.

Backed by the Tea Party Express and former Gov. Sarah Palin, the little-known conservative lawyer from Alaska engineered perhaps the biggest political upset of an upset-filled year, ousting Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who conceded the race late Tuesday night.

Mrs. Murkowski, a moderate whose family has clashed before with Mrs. Palin, gave up after failing to gain much ground as a count of outstanding absentee ballots progressed following the Aug. 24 primary.

Despite his low name recognition and modest campaign fund, Mr. Miller will be the favorite in November in strongly Republican Alaska against Democrat Scott McAdams, the mayor of Sitka.

Nevertheless, Senate Democrats moved quickly to see whether Mr. Miller’s victory could give them an opening in an otherwise difficult campaign season, conducting a poll to gauge the potential competitiveness of the race. Even before Mrs. Murkowski conceded, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Democrats’ campaign committee, said in an interview his organization might come into the state to aid Mr. McAdams.

Mr. Miller’s win was a major victory for the “tea party” movement and marked the first time it defeated a sitting senator in a primary.

Tea partiers knocked off Sen. Robert F. Bennett of Utah at a state convention in May, and emboldened organizers now have their sights set on Delaware, where they are backing conservative Christine O’Donnell against the more moderate Rep. Michael N. Castle in the Sept. 14 GOP Senate primary.

Mr. Miller, 43, said in a phone interview late Tuesday that he will campaign this fall on transferring power and control over resources from the federal government to Alaska and move to end the state’s heavy reliance on federal dollars and programs.

That would be a sharp break with the state’s legacy - a legacy largely carved out by former Republican Sen. Ted Stevens before his death last month in a plane crash.

But the government’s impending financial crisis eventually will force a reduction in funding to the state, Mr. Miller argued.

“We have to be prepared for that, and the way to do it, of course, is to progressionally transfer holdings of the federal government to us,” he said. “And, of course, also by reducing federal regulatory burdens over the lands that we do control so that we can develop them more freely and more economically.”

Mr. McAdams already has challenged Mr. Miller over the issue of federal support, saying the state benefits greatly from federal dollars from Washington.

The stunning result was a huge validation of Mrs. Palin’s political power. The former Alaska governor has been playing kingmaker in midterm elections ahead of a potential 2012 White House run.

Mr. Miller cast Mrs. Murkowski as too liberal and part of the problem in an out-of-control Washington, citing in particular her vote in support of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package. It is a campaign strategy that has helped oust other incumbents this year and that Republicans will employ again in November as they look to take back Congress.

Mr. McAdams, a former commercial fisherman, was given little chance against Mrs. Murkowski, and as of June 30 had raised less than $10,000. Some Democrats think he has a much better shot against the largely untested Mr. Miller.

Aside from a failed legislative bid in 2004, the Kansas-raised Mr. Miller had no experience running for office before jumping into the race to take on Mrs. Murkowski. He is friends with Mrs. Palin and her husband, Todd, and they both endorsed him.

Mr. Miller also had the blessing from tea-party activists. The California-based Tea Party Express said it spent nearly $600,000 to help Mr. Miller — most of that in the race’s final weeks, when Mr. Miller’s camp said it sensed momentum was on its side and that Mr. Miller could win.

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