The Time of Miller

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 25 2010 10:00 AM

The Time of Miller

UPDATE: In the interest of full disclosure, I am dating Alexandra Gutierrez. I didn't think this fact was unknown (it appeared in a Washington Examiner Yeas and Nays item) or important, but I won't deny that it was one reason I was compelled to defend her take on this race. Indeed, her on-the-ground reporting includeda fact that could have pointed us beltway denizens to the coming upset.

Twelve hours ago, the U.S. Senate primary in Alaska was an interesting minor story that few people paid attention to apart from, well, Slate . This morning I see Facebook exploding with fan images and delighted messages about Joe Miller , a successful attorney who jumped into the primary in April, raised a little money, got support from the Palin family and the Tea Party Express, and trailed massively in public polls. Miller leads U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, before the absentees are counted, and that's inspiring blog posts like this one, which neatly tuck Miller into the narrative of a biased media not taking conservatives seriously.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Read that last graf of our piece, by Alexandra Gutierrez, one more time.

Despite the long odds, Miller's team is still feeling optimistic. On Friday Sarah Palin wrote yet another Facebook post extolling his commonsense conservative values, and campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto says internal polls show that the campaign is within one point of Murkowski. The race is "pretty much neck and neck," he says. On Tuesday, we'll find out exactly how close those necks are.

There was evidence that Miller could win. It was just obscure, because Alaska handicappers didn't see evidence that a combination of lucky factors were breaking his way. (Gutierrez quoted Alaska sources exclusively.) The Palin endorsement got him uncritical national media attention. The Tea Party Express bought $500,000 in ads for Miller, which was the largest single buy in the state. Perhaps most importantly, the Measure 2 anti-abortion proposition was bringing out conservative voters. Meanwhile, Miller hadn't exactly lit the state on fire (one rally brought in nine people).

Did the rest of the media ignore Miller because of bias, then? I don't think so I was writing about Miller in April , for example, and I can't think of a politician whose endorsements have gotten more coverage than Palin's. Stacy McCain, who profiled Miller in July, sometimes refers to the factor that really blunted the media: the tyranny of polls. Polling showed Miller doing well but stubbornly behind Murkowski. Thus, he got I'm guessing here around 1/100 the coverage of Alvin Greene, who is as likely to be a U.S. senator as I am.

Hey, I'm embarrassed that I underestimated Miller. Even if, as sometimes happens, absentee ballots rescue the incumbent, he outperformed public polling that showed him down by double-digits. The only polling that showed him closing was ... the internal that Gutierrez reported.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.