Begich's Alaska Senate Seat Ripe for Republican Pickup

Monday, 10 Feb 2014 01:43 PM

By John Gizzi

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Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska faces one of the most difficult re-election fights of any Democratic senator in 2014, six years after he eked out a victory under unusual circumstances.

In 2008, Begich, then mayor of Anchorage, unseated Republican Sen. Ted Stevens after the 40-year incumbent's felony conviction on federal corruption charges.

Stevens actually led on election night in ballots cast, but after all absentee ballots were counted Begich emerged on top by 0.5 percentage points.

Stevens' conviction by a Washington, D.C., jury was eventually thrown out on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct; the Justice Department said prosecutors withheld evidence that would have cleared Stevens, who died in a plane crash in 2010.

"He didn't get justice and we didn't get justice," said Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who is considered the frontrunner among three Republicans vying for the nomination to oppose Begich, son of the late Rep. Nick Begich, D-Alaska.

"Instead, we got Mark Begich and the country got Obamacare," Treadwell told Newsmax.

Treadwell and the other two GOP candidates in the Aug. 19 primary — former attorney general of Alaska and state Commissioner of Natural Resources Daniel Sullivan and 2010 GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller — plan to make an issue of Begich's pivotal vote on the Affordable Care Act in 2009.

"There are other bad votes [Begich] has cast," Treadwell said.

"The Dodd-Frank Act has made it harder for Alaskans to get mortgages. And quite frankly, his worst vote is to elect Harry Reid as majority leader. He says he favors opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration. But that will never come up for a vote in the Senate so long as Reid is majority leader," Treadwell said.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School, Treadwell, 57, went to Alaska in 1974 for an internship and soon became associated with Walter Hickel, a former U.S. secretary of the interior and a legendary former governor who won as a Republican and later as an independent.

"I worked with Wally in private business and as deputy commissioner of the environment when he was governor the second time," Treadwell said. "So much of what he stood for, in terms of Alaskans making their own decisions instead of Washington telling us what to do, has been a major influence on my life."

Treadwell was a founding investor in Digimarc, a publicly listed company, and several other entrepreneurial start-ups and turnarounds.

In 2010, in his first bid for office, Treadwell won the GOP nomination and then the general election as lieutenant governor in a landslide, running with Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.

Treadwell is considered the frontrunner in the Senate primary in part because of his widespread connections in the business community and in part because he is the lone contender who has won elective office.

But his opponents have their own strengths.

Sullivan, who previously served as assistant U.S. secretary of state under President George W. Bush, has nationwide contacts for fundraising.

Miller, a lawyer, became a conservative hero when, with the blessing of Sarah Palin, he defeated Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 primary. Murkowski launched a write-in campaign, however, and with much of the Anchorage business community standing firmly with her became only the second candidate in history to win a Senate seat with write-in votes. Miller has been relatively quiet on the political scene since that race.

This month, Congressional Quarterly released a study of voting records showing that Begich has voted with President Barack Obama 97 percent of the time.

Alaska has only once gone for a Democratic presidential candidate (Lyndon Johnson in 1964) since statehood, and last elected a Democrat to the Senate in 1974 before the unusual election of 2008. So, Begich can be called extremely vulnerable in 2014.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House columnist for Newsmax.

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