ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Republican U.S. Senate nominee Joe Miller, who graduated at the top of his West Point class, served as a tank platoon leader in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and went on to Yale Law School, is now fighting the biggest political battle of his career.
Miller and his wife, Kathleen, came to Alaska 16 years ago, and say it was their dream to come here.
"It is the land of challenge, a land of opportunity, that I think attracts the best of us," Miller said.
But the campaign has posed some challenges for the Millers, who live on the outskirts of Fairbanks.
Miller asked Channel 2 News not to take images of their home, because threats have been made against his family. Even so, with seven of eight kids at home, it's a lively household.
When Kathleen Miller first met Joe, she was a single mom living in Kansas with two daughters. He had just returned from Iraq and was looking to adopt a dog. He found a golden retriever in a newspaper ad placed by Kathleen.
"So he came over, I gave him my dog -- not only did he get a dog, but he got a wife and two kids out of it," Kathleen Miller said.
Today, the Millers are a long way from Kansas, as well as the farm fields Joe Miller grew up near.
"Growing up as a child wasn't easy for us," Miller said.
With seven kids in the family, including a set of triplets, Miller says hard work was just a way of life -- but a childhood accident made things even tougher.
"I ended up in the first grade falling, hitting myself, my face on the floor; I ended up having some pretty significant scar tissue on my lip," Miller said. "I remember getting bullied incessantly."
To beat the bullies, Miller threw himself into his studies. By the time he was a student at Salina Central High School, earning good grades had become a habit -- a habit that helped get him into West Point. By then the disfigured lip was gone, but not its impact.
"It had a pretty significant impact on me for the first several years of my life, so much so that I ended up mowing lawns in order to make enough money to have a little surgical operation to cut that off -- you can still see part of it on my lip," Miller said. "It gives me a real sensitivity for what kids go through in school; it gives me a sensitivity, I think, for others. I recognize what people go through."
He also says he understands what it's like to get in trouble with the law.
"I had a pretty formative event in high school, that got me on the straight and narrow," Miller said. "The key is making sure you learn from your mistakes -- I certainly made plenty of them."
But Miller wouldn't provide the details, except to say that no one was harmed. He says reporters have been relentless in their questioning, and have targeted him unfairly.
"It is an outrageous breach of my family's privacy," Miller said at an Oct. 13 press conference. "But what I think, it also gets to the viciousness of this campaign. Kathleen and I are probably the most-disclosed couple in Alaskan politics."
When asked what the worst thing that would surface about his past is, Miller took a moment to respond.
"The very worst? I guess we'll do a tell-all. I walked into the airport with a loaded .45 and went through security -- this happened several years ago," Miller said.
Miller said he simply forgot he had put the gun in his carry-on bag, and wound up paying a fine.
Miller's opponents have called him a walking contradiction: someone who is very bright, but at the same time prone to gaffes that bring his fitness for office into question. They point to Miller's time at the Fairbanks North Star Borough, where he worked as a part-time attorney for more than seven years.
"Joe Miller has presented to the public a sterling resume," said the borough's former mayor, Jim Whitaker. "The problem with that is there is a seven-year hole with that resume, and therefore he told part of the truth."
The truth came out after the media took the borough to court to release Miller's employment records. A judge ordered the release of more documents, including a memo from Miller in which he admitted to using three co-workers' computers to engage in Republican Party politics, and had lied to cover it up.
"In fact, there's reason to believe that potentially a felony was committed -- at a minimum, a misdemeanor was committed," Whitaker said. "Those are serious, serious issues for an attorney working for a public entity, particularly for a U.S. Senate candidate."
Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, has questioned Whitaker's motives and his loyalty to the party. He says he is a supporter of Miller opponent Sen. Lisa Murkowksi’s write-in campaign, and that Whitaker supported Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential race.
Miller says his problems at the North Star Borough are being overblown, and that he was disciplined with a three-day suspension and learned his lesson.
"I'm not perfect. You know, I've been blessed with wonderful accomplishments, but I've also made my share of mistakes as well," Miller said.
In Tok, where Miller served as a part-time state magistrate, many who knew him say they know him as a man of integrity.
"I guess I trust a person's integrity more than how the media is portraying situations," said Deb Lundy. Lundy and her husband Jon bought their home from the Millers, after watching them build it.
The family lived in a garage until it was finished, and for a time even used an outhouse. Miller did much of the work, moving logs into place and the finish work inside.
"I think his experience in the Interior surely has prepared him to represent the people of Alaska well," Deb Lundy said.
Jon Lundy praised Miller for starting a therapeutic court in Tok to help people dealing with drug and alcohol problems.
"He made a real effort to reach out to people that were having some difficulties, outside the ordinary kind of criminal things," Lundy said.
Supporters and opponents alike can agree that Miller has taken a different road than most candidates. But the question remains: will it lead to victory on Election Day?
Another thing most people don't know about Miller is that he suffered hearing loss during the Gulf War while commanding a platoon of M1 Abrams tanks.
Miller says he's had a huge variety of experiences, both good and bad, that have given him insights on how to serve Alaskans in the Senate.
Contact Rhonda McBride at firstname.lastname@example.org