Alaska Republicans Set to Choose Mark Begich Challenger

Sullivan is running for the GOP nomination in the Alaska Senate primary. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Sullivan is running for the GOP nomination in the Alaska Senate primary. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted August 18, 2014 at 11:00am

DNR Dan. Afghan Dan. The Other Dan.  

No matter how voters refer to Senate candidate Dan Sullivan to distinguish him from the Anchorage mayor of the same name , he just hopes they choose him Tuesday in the GOP primary.  

Sullivan, a first-time candidate, is the clear frontrunner for the nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in a state central to the GOP’s path to the majority . He’s the favorite of Republicans on Capitol Hill and obliterated his primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller, in fundraising through the end of July.  

But the former appointed state attorney general and commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources still must close the deal amid pointed attacks from his fellow Republicans over a dozen or so debates and an influx of outside spending from Democrats.  

“By and large it looks like Sullivan will make it through,” Art Hackney, who is running a pro-Sullivan super PAC, said late last week. “But it doesn’t mean that’s cause for jubilation for more than five minutes.” A poll of 500 likely voters taken Aug. 4-5 by Sullivan pollster Moore Information found Sullivan leading with 42 percent, followed by Treadwell with 25 percent and Miller with 17 percent.  

Yet Sullivan backers weren’t taking anything for granted heading into the race’s final days, particularly with advertising from the Begich campaign and a pro-Begich super PAC providing mixed messages in the Republican contest.  

Treadwell and Miller refused to back down despite a disparity in resources, and the tea-party-aligned Miller — who lost to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in bid in the 2010 general election — touted late endorsements from Sarah Palin and conservative radio host Mark Levin.  

Still, the primary has been a case of the have and have-nots. Sullivan raised just more than $4 million through the end of July — including at least $80,000 from more than a dozen Republican senators — and spent some $3 million. Treadwell spent about $1 million and Miller about half that.  

“I think Sullivan is going to win it,” said pollster Marc Hellenthal, whose client list includes the other Sullivan, who is running for lieutenant governor. “And I think the only interesting thing will be if Miller beats Treadwell.”  

Sullivan, who’s run as the only candidate who can defeat Begich, launched his first broadcast TV ad in April. The underfunded Treadwell still hadn’t made a broadcast buy as of late last week.  

Recent ads from Begich and Put Alaska First ensured both of their names were splashed prominently across Alaska voters’ TV screens, with the focus on government intrusion. In the Begich campaign ad, that came in the form of abortion rights and birth control. The ad from the pro-Begich super PAC, which is funded almost entirely by Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC, was widely viewed as an attempt to boost the support of Miller.  

The ads also help Begich set up the general election, no matter which Republican emerges. Democrats had no intention of letting Republicans control the messaging on the race until mid-August.  

“Sullivan isn’t the only one pushing for more government control,” the announcer says in the latest super PAC ad. “Mead Treadwell created a company that helped the government spy on people and launched another company that pushed a national ID card.”  

Democrats insist they don’t favor facing either Sullivan, who has been attacked for his Ohio roots, or Treadwell, whose campaign operation and fundraising ability aren’t comparable to Sullivan’s.  

“Internally, we’ve all discussed who do we want to run against,” said Jim Lottsfeldt, who runs Put Alaska First. “We feel comfortable with any of them at this point.”  

Republicans aren’t buying it. American Crossroads quickly produced a radio ad last week accusing Democratic allies of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of “meddling in our primary and dishonestly attacking Dan Sullivan.”  

The National Republican Senatorial Committee hasn’t taken an official side in the race, though the abundance of support for Sullivan from senators is an indication of where Republican strategists lean.  

NRSC executive director Rob Collins told reporters late last month that both Sullivan and Treadwell have advantages, and no matter who emerges, “it’s going to be extremely difficult for a Democrat to win in 2014.”  

“The Democrats are desperate to decide who our nominee is going to be,” Collins said. “The conventional wisdom is that Dan Sullivan is the stronger candidate. But like I said, we’re neutral in that race.”  

Polls close at midnight EST.