Alaska: The First Frontier

Alaska’s actual nickname may be “The Last Frontier” but, in terms of recent political activity, the state is streaking to first place. As you have read in recent previous columns, the early ads coming from outside groups and the major candidates are attempting to cement candidate impressions for the long term. Sen. Mark Begich (D) has been unusually active on the airwaves for an incumbent with an election still eight months away, and now we may have uncovered why.

Yesterday, Rasmussen Reports released a new survey (March 19-20; 750 registered Alaska voters) that shows the incumbent leading only one of the three Republican candidates vying for a shot at opposing him in the general election. Sen. Begich is tied with the contender who seems to be gathering the most inside and outside momentum for the GOP, and surprisingly trails another whose campaign is in the middle of a major shake-up. The only candidate trailing the incumbent is the 2010 Republican nominee who ended up losing the general election to a write-in effort.

According to the Rasmussen data, the senator trails Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell (R), 43-47 percent. Recently, Treadwell dismissed his campaign manager and communications director with his campaign lagging way behind his chief Republican opponent in fundraising, endorsements, and outside group support. The results are surprising in that while Treadwell’s campaign seems to be retracting, his polling standing against Begich is actually rising.

Former attorney general and Department of Natural Resources commissioner Dan Sullivan has been the candidate at the forefront of the action. He has raised well over $1.5 million for the race, is attracting strong support in Alaska and Washington, the latter of which has become the subject of attack ads from outside organizations attempting to help Begich. A liberal support PAC called “Putting Alaska First” launched an attack on Sullivan for not being a native of the state. Now, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads countered with a piece featuring former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice defending Sullivan’s service to the country, and underscoring that people such as he have sacrificed in accepting positions that keep them away from home.

Back in 2010, former magistrate judge Joe Miller (R) shocked Sen. Lisa Murkowski by upending her in the Republican primary. She then turned around and ran a general election write-in campaign, and ultimately won a second full term by snatching victory from what appeared to be the jaws of defeat. Miller is returning to run again in 2014, and it is he alone who trails Sen. Begich on the ballot test questions. With considerably less support behind him in this race, Miller is a dark horse to win the ’14 GOP nomination, but he is likely to draw a significant number of primary votes that could directly affect the outcome.

The Alaska Senate race has certainly turned exciting quickly, and while the pace is unusually fast so far from election day in a small state – at least in terms of population – we can expect all of the candidates to continue to rapidly and pervasively churn toward November. The recent numbers and developments are clearly disconcerting to Begich, but this race is far from over and must be considered a bona fide toss-up. In the wee hours of post-election morning, the fate of the Senate majority could well come down to this lone far away campaign.

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