Palin's man in Alaska secures surprise victory for Tea Party

Chalk it up as a home win for Sarah Palin. In one of the biggest upsets of what has already been a hugely successful summer for political underdogs, a virtually-unknown lawyer from Alaska has won a surprise victory in the State's Republican primary, unseating a well-established but far less conservative incumbent in the process.

Joe Miller, who enjoyed vociferous support from Ms Palin, together with funding from the Tea Party movement, becomes the firm favourite to win November's election to the US Senate after narrowly beating Lisa Murkowski, a career politician who holds centre-right views and has held office for the Republicans for eight years.

He was leading by roughly 1,600 votes out of just over 100,000 when Murkowski announced her resignation on Tuesday afternoon. The victory makes Miller the seventh outsider to defeat a sitting politician so far this election season, following the defeat of big-name incumbents like Robert Bennett of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

It also provides further evidence of voter frustration with the Washington establishment which could result in huge losses for Barack Obama's Democrats in the coming mid-term elections. Yesterday saw the University of Virginia's influential Crystal Ball polling service predicted dramatic defeats for the Democrats, who could lose control of several governorships, together with both the US Senate and House of Representatives.

It comes hot on the heels of a Gallup poll that shows them 10 points behind the Republicans, the widest gap for almost seven decades. If that were replicated in November, it would turn Obama into a "lame-duck" President who for the final two years of his term in office would hold little sway over anything except US foreign policy.

Mr Miller's rise provides a pertinent insight into the state of mind of Republican supporters, who have shifted firmly to the right since the last presidential election. A decorated Gulf War veteran with no political experience to speak of, his freewheeling campaign focused on two major issues: abortion (he is vehemently opposed) and public spending (he'd like it slashed).

Though Alaska's economy traditionally relies on huge financial support from the rest of America, Miller believes that the US faces an imminent "sovereign debt crisis" and should therefore abolish Social Security and cut spending on almost everything except its military.

On the domestic front, he promised to review the public subsidies that Alaska has for years received from Washington. He also wants to transfer vast tracts of federally-held land into the ownership of locals, who can then develop it.

The platform was enough to win Miller an endorsement from Ms Palin, whose husband Todd is an old friend. She touted him as a "man of the people" on her Facebook page and greeted his victory with a congratulatory message on Twitter: "Do you believe in miracles?!" it read. "Thank you for your service, Sen Murkowski. On to November!"

The Tea Party Express, which donated $600,000 to Miller's campaign, described his victory as "the political shocker of the year". Its chair Amy Kramer said: "[his] campaign based on a constitutional conservative platform resonated with the state's Republican primary voters and should serve as a wake-up call to the political establishments of both parties".

The result was also celebrated by Alaska's Democratic candidate Scott McAdams, a former fisherman and mayor of the town of Sitka. Like many of his party's candidates across America, he hopes to woo swing voters over the coming months by portraying his Tea Party-endorsed opponent as an irrational extremist.

"Lawyer Joe Miller ran an unfair, nasty campaign that didn't extend to Lisa Murkowski the respect she deserves," he said yesterday.

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