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In a unique twist among most Republican Senate primaries this cycle, the fight for the nomination in Alaska has become a two-headed battle for the establishment mantle.
Rather than an ideological showdown, the candidates are utilizing their various connections to prove they are better positioned to take on one of the top GOP targets in 2014, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.
The race for support is between Dan Sullivan, a former Bush appointee with a wealth of Washington connections, and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who has been in or around Alaska politics for decades. Since entering the race in October, the buzz has centered squarely on Sullivan — even though he’s never run for office before.
Ivan Moore, an independent pollster in Alaska, said Sullivan’s candidacy immediately nudged Treadwell aside as the insiders’ pick to take on Begich.
“All of a sudden, it’s quite clear that Treadwell isn’t an establishment guy,” Moore said. “He’s establishment in the sense that he’s a high elected Republican official in the state of Alaska, but that doesn’t in this particular case mean that he’s establishment. He’s quite categorically not.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee is staying publicly neutral in the race, and it has a standing policy of allowing any Republican Senate candidate to hold fundraisers at its headquarters.
However, eyebrows in both parties were raised in late October, when NRSC Chairman Jerry Moran of Kansas and Vice Chairman Rob Portman of Ohio both appeared at a Sullivan fundraiser held at party headquarters on Capitol Hill. Sullivan highlighted the private reception — which was hosted by a laundry list of former Bush administration officials — in an early November email to supporters. He noted in the missive that the campaign exceeded its fundraising goal.
In contrast, since beginning to raise money in February, Treadwell turned in consecutive quarterly reports showing less than $200,000 in receipts. Treadwell’s fundraising didn’t really get going until Republican Gov. Sean Parnell announced he would run for re-election rather than for Senate.
While Alaska candidates don’t need to raise as much because of the state’s relatively cheap advertising rates, by the end of the third quarter Begich had built a $2.3 million lead in cash on hand.
“Mead hasn’t done much,” one Republican source on Capitol Hill said. “He got in [the race] in February and had a lot of time to clear the field or put out an intimidating number, and he didn’t do it.”