No tea party break for Democrats in Alaska

Dan Sullivan, former Alaska attorney general, won the Republican Senate primary Tuesday – not tea partyer Joe Miller. Now Sen. Mark Begich (D) is in for a battle royale.

Michael Dinneen/AP
Sen. Mark Begich (D) of Alaska (r.) speaks to supporters in Anchorage, Alaska, after polls closed in a primary election on Tuesday. He now faces a tough race to hold his seat in the general election in November.

The Democrats have lost their last, best chance at facing a tea party candidate in a crucial Senate race.

Sen. Mark Begich (D) of Alaska will face the state’s former attorney general, Dan Sullivan (R), in November, following Mr. Sullivan’s GOP primary victory Tuesday. Sullivan came in first with 40 percent of the vote, followed by tea partyer Joe Miller (32 percent), and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (25 percent).

If Mr. Miller had won the Republican nomination, Senator Begich would have been the clear favorite in November. Mr. Miller, an attorney and Gulf War veteran, was the conservative upstart who beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) in the 2010 GOP primary. Senator Murkowski went on to win the 2010 general election in a spirited write-in campaign.

Now, facing Sullivan, Begich is fighting for his political life. He’s a Democrat in a Republican-leaning state in what could be a big Republican year. The GOP needs a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate, and three of those already appear headed for the Republican column: Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. With the House safely in Republican hands, a Senate flip would make the final two years of Barack Obama’s struggling presidency all the more difficult.

Political handicappers call the race a tossup. And Begich is all in. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, he’s raised $8.4 million so far, and spent $6.4 million through the end of July, even as he went unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Analysts say the key for Begich is to tap into Alaskans’ independent spirit, and to make clear to voters that he’s not an Obama lapdog.

He’s setting up campaign offices across the state and has blanketed the airwaves with ads aimed at showing he’s a “real Alaskan.” One ad shows Begich riding a snowmachine across Arctic Ocean ice and highlighting his efforts to secure federal permits to allow drilling there.

"The national policies are important," said Bill Popp, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. and a longtime friend of Begich, to the Associated Press. "But the ground game of how you take care of constituents' needs in the state will be much more important."

Begich, a former mayor of Anchorage, was born and raised in Alaska, and is the son of a former congressman who died in a 1972 plane crash. Sullivan is from Ohio, and moved to Alaska in the late 1990s – though his wife is native Alaskan.

Alaska Dispatch News describes Sullivan as “a tough-talking Marine with a killer resume: Georgetown law school and White House fellow, assistant secretary of state and top adviser to a combat commander, Alaska attorney general, and natural resources commissioner.”

After Tuesday’s primary, both national party committees issued their opening salvos of the general election. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) called Sullivan an “Outsider,” with a capital “O,” whose campaign is “bankrolled by Outside special interests.”

“Alaska’s bitter and divisive Republican primary exposed that Dan Sullivan does not look out for what’s in the best interests of Alaskans,” DSCC Deputy Executive Director Matt Canter said in a statement. “After carrying water for Sarah Palin and trying to restrict access to public lands for hunters and fishers, Sullivan is now hoping to do the Koch brothers’ bidding in the US Senate.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) highlighted Sullivan’s service to Alaska – and made a direct appeal to women voters, who will be crucial in Senate races across the country.

“Dan Sullivan has dedicated his life to service and sacrifice to ensure future generations are protected,” said NRSC chairman Jerry Moran (R) of Kansas in a statement.

“As attorney general and commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, Dan has demonstrated that he will always put Alaska first and focus on the issues most important to the state. In his role as attorney general, Dan Sullivan led the fight to crack down on domestic violence and sexual assault, proving that he will always fight to do what is right for women and all Alaskans.”

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