Three Republicans face off Tuesday at the end of a bruising
battle for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in the fall, one of
the most critical races for determining control of the Senate. The Alaska race
features a battle between the establishment and Tea Party wings of the GOP.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin jumped in over the weekend to support an
underdog Tea Party favorite.
Alaska is one of seven vulnerable, Democratic-held U.S.
Senate seats that will help determine which party controls the chamber in the
next Congress. Democrats enjoy a 55-45 majority; Republicans need a net gain of
six seats for a takeover. The GOP is likely to gain at least three seats in
Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.
The front-runner for the GOP nomination in Alaska, Dan
Sullivan, is a former Alaska attorney general and a Marine officer who has led
in polling. Sullivan faces Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who is well-known across
Alaska and enjoys support in the state's native communities, and Tea Party
favorite Joe Miller, who was endorsed by Palin in the closing days of the race.
With Palin's support, Miller won the 2010 GOP primary against Sen. Lisa
Murkowski, but she went on to win the general election in a write-in campaign.
In an Alaskan election-year tradition, the three candidates
attended a church service at Anchorage Baptist Temple on Sunday and mingled
among other political hopefuls in a last minute push for support. Each of the
candidates has publicly pledged to support the primary winner, assuaging some
GOP concerns that the party is too divided to mount an effective campaign
against Begich this November.
Put Alaska First, a Democratic offshoot of the Senate
Majority PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been
focused almost exclusively on attack ads against Sullivan in the lead-up to the
Miller is the most conservative candidate in the primary,
particularly on social issues such as abortion rights. He is the candidate
Democrats would most like to run against in November because his brand of Tea
Party conservatism could turn off the state's more centrist voters. More than
half of the state's electorate is not registered with a political party.
Begich faces only token opposition in his Democratic
primary. Begich was first elected in 2008 and has served only under the Obama
administration. Republicans align him with national Democrats, but he campaigns
as an independent-minded senator who is happy to oppose Obama on issues
critical to Alaskans, such as privacy rights and gun control laws.
More than $8 million has been spent in the race, more than
half of which has come from Democrats' negative attacks on Republicans.
Republicans are likely to unleash on Begich this fall. Crossroads alone has
reserved $5.5 million in ad time for September and October.
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