Back when Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the presumed Republican Senate candidate in Alaska, nobody expected a Democrat to defeat her in the general election -- in fact, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee couldn't even remember the Democratic candidate's name in an interview Wednesday.
Now that Tea Party-backed insurgent Joe Miller appears to be, however, Democrats think they might have an opening.
The race is still considered a longshot for Democrats, to be sure. But the party was quick on Wednesday to begin depicting Miller as an extreme candidate unfit for the Senate. And Democratic candidate Scott McAdams, mayor of the small town of Sitka, has seized the surprise turn of events to cast himself as the candidate who can bring both fresh blood and experience to the job.
Miller, who has no experience in elected office, was able to put up a strong challenge against Murkowski -- an incumbent from a family well-known in Alaska politics -- with the support of the Tea Party and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. While the Tea Party movement gave Miller a boost in the GOP primary, the Democratic Party is betting it could cost him in the general election.
In a release sent out Wednesday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee blasted Miller as a "dangerous enemy to middle-class Alaskans," criticizing him for his positions on Social Security and other government programs.
"Joe Miller seems more intent on imposing a strict social doctrine to please his out-of-state tea party backers but would leave the people of his state high and dry," the release said. "Alaskans deserve a senator who will stick up for them in the United States Senate."CBSNews.com Special Report: Campaign 2010
If Murkowski loses to Miller, she will be the seventh "establishment" Senate candidate to fail to win the Republican nomination and the sixth to lose to a Tea Party candidate. Democrats are doing all they can to capitalize on that.
The Democratic National Committee on Wednesday released a memo characterizing the Alaska GOP primary as an example of the "ongoing fued" between the Tea Party movement and the Republican establishment.
Meanwhile, questions arose about whether the Democratic party was ready to get behind their candidate -- McAdams. As mentioned above, in an interview on Wednesday, DNC spokesperson Brad Woodhouse could not remember his name.
At a press conference that same day, McAdams dismissed speculation that the party may want to replace him with a more well-known candidate, the Alaska Dispatch reports.
During the press conference, McAdams also reportedly picked up on two themes popular with Tea Party voters -- an anti-incumbent attitude and fiscal responsibility.
"I'm the only candidate in this race who's ever balanced a budget," McAdams said, citing his eight years in public office, according to the Dispatch. "I'm the only candidate in this race who ever voted on a budget. I am by far the most experienced candidate in this race."
Effectively dismissing any chance Murkowski may have of pulling off a victory, McAdams said Alaskans are "ready for change," according to the Dispatch -- but that doesn't mean they're ready for Joe Miller.
In their memo, the DNC argued that the bottom line is, "Democrats can win in Alaska." For proof, the party committee said, you need look no further than Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.
Begich's success doesn't necessarily prove McAdams can win, however. Begich in 2008 became the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the Senate in nearly 30 years when he defeated longtime Sen. Ted Stevens. His win, however, came a month after Stevens was convicted on seven felony charges.
And in addition to the fact that Alaska is a fairly unfavorable environment for Democrats, McAdams had less than $5,000 cash on hand to work with as of his most recent fundraising report.
This story was updated to reflect that six "establishment" Republican candidates have lost in the primaries -- not necessarily candidates backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.