By Jim Ellis
June 6, 2016 — As the June 1 filing deadline was just minutes from closing, an unexpected individual came forward to declare a Republican primary challenge to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan (R), the 2014 Republican lieutenant governor nominee (he and Gov. Sean Parnell lost to Democrat Byron Mallot and Independent Bill Walker, respectively), announced opposite incumbent Murkowski for the Aug. 16 Republican nominating election.
This challenge is significant for several reasons. First, Sullivan is an accomplished Alaska politician, serving as mayor of the state’s lone major city for six years after spending almost a decade as a member of the Anchorage city assembly.
Second, during her last nomination campaign, Sen. Murkowski fell to a little known former local judge, Joe Miller, in the 2010 Republican primary. Miller scored a shocking 51-49 percent win with just under 110,000 voters participating, after taking clear advantage of the building Tea Party wave. But, Murkowski refused to give up. Armed with millions of dollars, strong support at home and from Washington, the senator embarked upon an Independent write-in effort that proved highly successful. Just 10 weeks after her stunning defeat, Murkowski rebounded to score a 39-35-23 percent general election victory over Miller and Democratic nominee Scott McAdams, the mayor of Sitka.
Murkowski, daughter of former senator and governor Frank Murkowski, was originally appointed to her Senate seat. In fact, her father chose her to fill his own vacancy after being elected as the state’s chief executive. Lisa Murkowski then won a full term in her own right in 2004, and was re-elected in the unusual fashion described above six years later. Wary about another primary battle, the senator has amassed over $4 million in her campaign account and will take nothing for granted.
The third key reason concerns voter confusion. If the name Dan Sullivan sounds familiar, it’s likely because you associate it with Alaska’s other incumbent senator — Republican Dan Sullivan. Sen. Sullivan unseated then-incumbent Mark Begich (D) just two years ago by a tight 48-46 percent margin. Therefore, it will be understandable if many voters are perplexed when they enter the voting booth and may not clearly understand which Dan Sullivan is on the ballot. This brings a wild card context to the 2016 campaign that will take some time to understand.
Facing a much stronger Republican candidate than to whom she previously lost, this campaign will be an interesting one for the reasons stated above, even though Sullivan will be severely over-matched in campaign resources.
At the end of last week, the federal district judge hearing the Democrats’ challenge to the new North Carolina congressional map upheld the re-draw. This, less than a week before voters go to the polls in the state’s delayed congressional primary.
Earlier in the year, the middle district federal judicial panel struck down the official 2011 map and gave the legislature only two weeks to redraw and enact a new congressional plan based upon the court directives. They did it, and the Democrats were again displeased, so they took further legal action. With this ruling, and for at least the 2016 election, the re-drawn map will finally constitute the political playing field.