The Republican establishment got its way in Alaska late Tuesday, successfully anointing Dan Sullivan, former attorney general and national resources commissioner, as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Sullivan will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in a race that is crucially important for control of the Senate.
The primary campaign was hard-fought but inconclusive. The most recent polling showed Sullivan ahead in the three-way race, but polls in the state are notoriously unreliable.
Both Sullivan and current Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell were considered real threats to Begich, but establishment Republican groups have largely coalesced around Sullivan, as has the conservative Club For Growth. The wild card was Joe Miller, a tea party insurgent who won the 2010 Republican Senate nomination in an upset over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski – only to lose to Murkowski, who was a write-in candidate in the general election. Miller, who has called for President Obama’s impeachment, would likely have taken the seat out of play for Republicans.
While Sullivan handily outraised Treadwell and both vastly outraised the weaker Miller, Democratic groups spent millions of dollars on ads attacking Sullivan in an effort to elevate his opponents. Miller also received last-minute endorsements from Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, which may have boosted his standing with tea party and social conservative voters despite Palin’s waning popularity in the state.
Unfortunately for Begich, who would benefit from a split conservative vote, Miller indicated last week that if he lost the primary, he would not run as a third-party candidate.
Begich took no chances, running ads defining both Treadwell and Sullivan as threats to women’s rights.