The Alaska Republican primary ballot next year will be a tale of two Dan Sullivans.
Former state Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, a first-time candidate, announced a challenge last month to Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. Anchorage Mayor
, a first-time candidate, announced a challenge last month to Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, the better-known of the two, is running for lieutenant governor.
The presence of more than one Dan Sullivan is causing some confusion in polling on the two races, but it may not necessarily have negative repercussions for either candidate in the Aug. 19 primaries. While there will undoubtedly be plenty of advertising in this inexpensive state over the next nine months, any lingering confusion could conceivably provide the Senate candidate a few extra points of support.
“From a strategy point of view, I think it’s to both parties’ interests — because both parties benefit from the other party’s advertising — to not dispel it until the primary is over,” said Marc Hellenthal, a veteran Republican pollster in the state whose client is the Anchorage mayor.
Former Commissioner Sullivan is fighting for the Republican Senate nomination against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller. Mayor Sullivan is one of a couple of Republicans running to replace Treadwell.
To differentiate the two in surveys, Hellenthal said pollsters have to be careful about the wording of questions to avoid affecting the results.
A Senate race poll conducted in July by North Carolina-based Democratic firm Public Policy Polling referred to Sullivan as “Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan.” It listed Treadwell as simply “Mead Treadwell,” without signifying that he was lieutenant governor.
At first glance of that poll, it was remarkable that 59 percent of state voters had already formed an opinion about Sullivan, a Marine Corps officer sometimes referred to in Alaska as Afghan Dan. He was about three months from launching his Senate campaign and at that point, was still mum about his political aspirations.
Hellenthal said he believes most of the people surveyed in that poll thought they were voicing an opinion about the mayor of Anchorage, where more than 40 percent of the state population resides. Hellenthal’s own polling two weeks earlier found that 57 percent of voters had formed a positive or negative view of the mayor.
Providing even more confusion for voters, the last mayor of Anchorage, Begich, is now a senator.
“You’ve got one Dan Sullivan, the mayor of Anchorage, who has tremendous name ID,” Hellenthal said. “Dan Sullivan the commissioner, who is running for U.S. Senate, nobody really knows. He just hasn’t been in the spotlight; he doesn’t command name identification. So when we poll, people think it’s the mayor of Anchorage, and understandably so, since the last mayor of Anchorage ran for the Senate successfully.”
The Senate race is currently rated Tossup/Tilt Democrat by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.