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Alaska Voters Pick Former Attorney General to Face Begich

Millions of dollars in political advertising will rain down upon the eyes and ears of Alaska residents by Labor Day in what will be one of the most expensive and nastiest campaigns in the general election season as Republicans picked their nominee to try to unseat Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

The American Crossroads super PAC had already reserved $5.5 million in ad time to support whichever Republican won the Alaska GOP Senate primary on Tuesday.

The winner turned out to be the GOP establishment’s favorite: former attorney general Dan Sullivan. With nearly all precincts reporting, Sullivan led Joe Miller 40 percent to 32 percent. Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell was in third place with 25 percent.

Democrats had also been banking on a Sullivan victory.

The Begich campaign was targeting him months before the primary, spending $5.2 million on political ads before the primary election even though the Democrat only had token opposition on his side of the ballot.

Democrats continued the attacks on Sullivan as soon as he was declared the winner.

"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 U.S. Senate," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee deputy executive director Matt Canter said in a statement.

"Sullivan is an Outsider and his campaign is bankrolled by Outside special interests that want to privatize Medicare and Social Security, eliminate a federal minimum wage, and protect tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas."

The Put Alaska First super PAC was promising to spend at least $4 million on advertising over two months to back the Begich re-election effort.

Beyond what the Outsiders (that is considered a proper noun in Alaska) are promising to do on behalf of both candidates, the one-term senator faces a united Republican Party in Alaska.

Treadwell called Sullivan not long after the polls closed not to concede — Treadwell finished a disappointing third — but to offer his support in the general election campaign.

Miller, the wild card in everything political in Alaska, promised in the last televised debate between the three GOP Senate primary candidates to back the party’s nominee.

"I've never said this before; I'll support you guys. I will," Miller said. "We've got to get rid of Begich. There's no question about it."

But Miller, who surprised some pollsters by finishing just 8 points behind Sullivan, made his fellow Republicans more than a little nervous by initially refusing to concede defeat.

Five hours after the polls closed in Alaska, Miller was holding out hope that absentee ballots would put him ahead of Sullivan.

However, at 4 a.m. Alaska time, Miller issued a statement congratulating Sullivan.

“While there are still over 20,000 absentee ballots to be counted and several major precincts yet to report, it seems unlikely we will be able to close the 7,000 vote gap, given the current trends,” Miller said. “I have called and congratulated Dan Sullivan for running a strong campaign.”

Miller turned into a real force in Alaska politics again with his 2014 primary campaign. He picked up three important endorsements in the days before the primary from James Dobson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who had stayed on the sidelines.

It was Palin who was credited with putting Miller over the top in his 2010 GOP Senate primary win over Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). She came back as an independent, a rogue candidate if you will, and defeated him the following November.

There had been some morning-after talk in Alaska that Miler’s refusal to concede could hurt the sense of Republican unity and Miller’s surprising finish in the primary might make him reconsider his promise not to go rogue.

But those concerns were unfounded. The GOP is united as it goes into the general election against Begich.

Murkowski drew her line in the sand a week before the primary by blasting Begich for running an ad that showed the pair of senators smiling together, giving the impression that they were a team working together for Alaska.

Murkowski’s campaign was so upset by the Begich ad that her people got a cease-and-desist order in an effort to get the Democrat’s team to pull the ad. They did not.

Murkowski consistently accused Begich of working hand-in-hand with the Obama administration and has pointed out to Alaska voters that if the GOP wins control of the Senate she could get the chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Given the importance of oil and natural gas to Alaska’s economy, that would be a very important assignment.

However, the Murkowski endorsement could hold more sway with independents and Democrats than Republicans. This could be critical in November. A Public Policy Polling survey released Aug. 12 showed Murkowski is much more popular with Democrats than she is with Republicans. Her approval splits are 58/24 with Democrats, 45/33 with independents, and 37/48 with Republicans.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, made it very clear on primary night that the GOP will do its best to tie Begich to the hip of President Obama in the general election campaign.

“Even though Senator Begich has failed to pass even a single amendment during his five years in Washington, he has voted for the Obama agenda a staggering 97 percent of the time -- including costly energy taxes, spending increases, and of course, ObamaCare,” Moran said in a statement.

Being allied with Obama probably won’t help many Democrats come November 2014. It will certainly hurt Begich.

Alaska is a red-hot Republican state. Obama has never done well here. Even in his 2008 victory over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama lost Alaska by more than 21 points. Obama did better against Mitt Romney in 2012 but still lost by 14 points.

The Begich campaign’s best attack strategy against Sullivan might be highlighting the fact that the state’s former attorney general is from Ohio. That would make him an Outsider.

Sullivan was born and raised in Ohio. He moved to Alaska in 1997 but spent much of the next decade living in Maryland while he worked in the Bush administration.

It may not seem like much of an issue to those in the 48 contiguous states, but this is such a potentially deadly problem for Sullivan that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice played defense for him in the American Crossoads commercial, “Tireless,” in March assuring voters that Sullivan was all about Alaska.