Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Lines Drawn in Key Battleground State for Senate Majority

In Senate on March 14, 2014 at 10:28 am

This week, events in Alaska’s nationally important Senate race have apparently begun to crystallize. Just as Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) begins an offensive campaign surge, the Republican coalition’s disparate segments are moving to coalesce behind one candidate.

The Club for Growth’s announcement that they will back former attorney general and state Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan instead of their 2010 candidate, former magistrate judge Joe Miller, means the GOP and their allies are wisely taking steps to settle upon a consensus candidate. Miller upset Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 Republican primary but fell in the general election to her impressive write-in campaign effort. Looking to avoid a similar calamity against a Democratic incumbent, the CfG and those controlling the national Republican Party structure are in agreement that Sullivan has the strongest prospects of unseating Begich in the general election.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell was thought to be the early GOP front-runner, but his fundraising and campaign apparatus development have been disappointing. Sullivan streamed past Treadwell by doubling him in dollars raised ($1.276 million to $606,000) by the end of 2013, needing less than half the time on the campaign trail to do so.

Since cabinet posts are unelected in Alaska, the two positions Sullivan previously held were appointed. He served as Sarah Palin’s attorney general and current Gov. Sean Parnell’s Department of Natural Resources commissioner before resigning that position to run for the Senate. If Sullivan carries through to the nomination, then this faraway state could hold the key to which party wins the Senate majority. A Republican conversion here in the wee hours of post-election morning (Eastern time) could well mean more than the party gaining one additional seat in the Senate chamber.

For weeks, the conservative Americans for Prosperity organization, a group for which billionaire entrepreneurs Charles and David Koch provide principle funding, has been hammering Sen. Begich in television ads about his support for Obamacare. This week, the senator struck back, but it’s probable that his volleys have been shot in vain.

In his new ad (above), the Begich campaign goes after the Koch brothers by name, adding yet another opponent into the race beyond just his eventual Republican opposition. This is always a questionable tactic, especially when the subject of said attack is not particularly well known to those viewing the ad.

This presentation, in particular, is difficult to follow because it addresses too many topics. The ad begins by refuting the AfP message; then it criticizes the organization for employing a Washington, DC actress to deliver their message, never mentioning, of course, that the Putnam Partners media firm producing Begich’s spots is headquartered in Virginia. After this, the Koch Brothers are attacked for buying an Alaska refinery and then, according to the spokespeople, for “running it into the ground” and that “a lot of Alaskans are losing jobs.” Then yet another throw-in comment is brought up, this time about clean drinking water, before ending with a trucker saying that he doesn’t “tell them” (an apparent reference to the Koch brothers) what to do, and he doesn’t want “them” dictating to Alaskans. All of these semi-connected messages are communicated in 30 seconds.

Begich clearly felt the need to respond to the issue ads targeting him, but his initiative appears to be a poor retort that will likely leave people asking more questions than clearly understanding his points. At least in this current early time period, it appears that the senator’s opponents have snatched the early strategic and tactical advantage.

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