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Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich logged some 140,000 miles in the air last year, trekking back and forth to The Last Frontier at least twice a month.
That’s enough to earn Alaska Airline’s elite passenger status several times over — and the number of 10-hour door-to-door trips should only increase as Begich starts his first re- election race.
“Alaskans expect you to be seen, and they expect to talk to you,” said Begich, one of the most vulnerable senators up in 2014. “It’s not like running in California or even Maryland or Virginia. They expect you to show up when they call you. So that’s a huge part of the equation.”
Begich is running in a reliably Republican state, and he laughed as he described President Barack Obama’s 13-point loss in Alaska last year as “an improvement” over previous presidential performances.
He’s one of six Democratic senators running for re-election in states the president lost, and national Republicans will be sure to bring up his house in the nation’s capital and his ties to Obama and Senate Democratic leadership.
“Sen. Mark Begich simply hasn’t been the guy he promised that he would be as a candidate,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring said.
As the first-term Democrat, who defeated longtime Republican Sen. Ted Stevens by some 4,000 votes in 2008, sat down for an extended interview last week, an aide walked in carrying a bronze eagle statue that Begich had received that day for his work on behalf of National Guardsmen. The aide placed the award at the center of a white marble fireplace mantel between a long line of family pictures, including one of the senator’s wife catching a 62-pound king salmon.
Begich made it clear that highlighting his Anchorage roots and touting a relentless focus on state interests are vital to his re-election.
“Most of my living has come from the small business world, so people know me in a variety of ways,” Begich said. “If they want to do that, I’ll give them case after case where I’ve pushed back on the president.”
Begich touts his record on pushing for Arctic energy development and being an advocate for the state’s military interests, and he cites the achievements of getting a research vessel built for the University of Fairbanks and a permanent reauthorization of an American Indian health care improvement law.
Begich said his agenda doesn’t always align with the president’s, which makes for some lengthy and testy phone conversations.