Alaska Republicans Vie for Chance to Unseat Begich

Tuesday, 19 Aug 2014 08:49 PM

 

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A whistle-stop tour of the state in an RV. An endorsement from the second man to walk on the moon. Even one of the most polarizing figures in American politics found cause to weigh in on the state she used to lead.

The last-minute scramble ahead of Tuesday's primary election in Alaska had a little bit of everything as three Republican challengers waged a contentious campaign to be the candidate to take on U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in the fall.

The race is important to Republicans nationally since Begich, a first-term incumbent Democrat, is seen as vulnerable and the GOP needs a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate.

The Alaska GOP Senate race mirrors national trends, with tea party conservatives trying to knock out mainstream Republicans. The race features former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner Dan Sullivan, current Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and tea party favorite and 2010 GOP primary winner Joe Miller.

Sullivan, who has the support of national Republican powerbrokers and groups like Club for Growth, was considered the front-runner early on in part due to his fundraising prowess, which has rivaled that of Begich. Roughly $4 million in attacks have been run against Sullivan by a pro-Begich super PAC, with some of the knocks against him over his residency — a big deal in Alaska.

Sullivan is from Ohio, but his wife is from Alaska and his roots here date to the 1990s. He left the state in 2002 for stints in George W. Bush's administration and overseas with the military, before returning in 2009 and being appointed attorney general by Palin.

On Tuesday morning, Sullivan was out with supporters — including his wife, three teenage daughters and niece — waving signs along a busy Anchorage street and looking relaxed.

"Voters are going to make the decision today. I'm proud of the campaign we ran," he said, adding: "We have not left any stone unturned."

Sullivan spent the last few days leading up to the primary covering hundreds of miles in an RV; he skipped the last debate to be broadcast statewide to focus on door-to-door campaigning.

Palin, who has little to do with state-level politics since resigning in 2009 and becoming a paid contributor for Fox News, re-emerged to support an oil tax referendum that also is on the ballot — if successful, it would restore the tax regime she championed as governor — and to endorse Miller.

Miller is largely considered a wild card and long-shot, but he's running a race that smacks of 2010, when he upset Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary, though he ended up losing to her in the general election after she ran a write-in campaign.

He has a network of loyal supporters, attention from conservative talk radio hosts and endorsements from anti-abortion and tea party-style groups. He exuded confidence in the race's final days.

"I'm going to win, with God's help and the people's help, let's put it that way," Miller told The Associated Press on Sunday. "I am convinced the people of this state are going to make the right decision."

Supporter Amy Walker of Palmer was, too. She had been out sign-waving in Anchorage for several hours Tuesday morning and said she didn't think about voting for anyone else, calling Miller a "champion for liberty."

Treadwell has cast himself as the "electable" conservative, in contrast with Miller. Treadwell also has played up his decades-long ties to the state, as opposed to Sullivan. He believes his knowledge of Alaska issues, from fisheries to aviation, make him the strongest candidate to challenge Begich. His endorsements include four-time Iditarod champ Martin Buser and astronaut Buzz Aldrin, which came near the end of the race.

Campaign manager Peter Christensen, out sign-waving Tuesday morning across the street from a clutch of Miller supporters, said some people don't start to follow a race until it's nearly over. He said endorsements tend to work that way, too,

"We did everything we could," he said.

Alaska voters also will decide on nominees for governor, the U.S. House and whether to repeal a new tax on oil companies operating in the state Tuesday night, though most Americans will wake up to the results Wednesday. Because of time zone differences, polls in western Alaska close at 1 a.m. EDT.

Another western state, Wyoming, also will hold its primary election Tuesday. U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi and Rep. Cynthia Lummis face lesser-known challengers from within the Republican Party.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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