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Sullivan's Alaska Win: Another GOP Establishment Triumph

Sullivan's Alaska Win: Another GOP Establishment Triumph

By Scott Conroy - August 20, 2014

There may not have been an incumbent on the ballot in Tuesday's Republican U.S. Senate primary in Alaska, but the national GOP establishment had a favored horse in the race in former state attorney general Dan Sullivan. 

And as has happened time and again this primary season, the establishment candidate triumphed over a Tea Party foe whom Washington Republicans feared would be unelectable in November.  

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Sullivan won 40.1 percent of the vote, besting Tea Party favorite Joe Miller (32 percent) and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (24.9). 

Miller had been running a distant third place, according to most polls, but he appeared to benefit from late backing received from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. 

But the last-minute endorsements weren’t enough to put the hard-line conservative and winner of the 2010 GOP Senate primary over the top, allowing national Republicans to breathe a sigh of relief.  

Sullivan’s victory comes after establishment Republicans completed a clean sweep in defending all of the incumbent GOP senators facing primary challenges during the midterm cycle.  

Despite his opponents having more longstanding ties to Alaska, Sullivan’s stints working in the George W. Bush administration and the Condoleezza Rice-led State Department helped him to secure key financial support from outside groups, including Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  

Sullivan will now face incumbent Democrat Mark Begich in one of November’s marquee Senate matchups.  

If Sullivan is able to defeat Begich -- who won his seat in 2008 by defeating longtime Republican Sen. Ted Stevens -- it would go a long way toward securing a GOP takeover of the Senate. 

Democratic outside groups have already spent several million dollars in anti-Sullivan attack ads, an effort to define the man they believed to be the strongest Republican candidate in the field.  

Sullivan alluded to this effort soon after his victory on Tuesday became clear.  

“Harry Reid tried to stop us, but his millions of dollars of attack ads didn't work,” Sullivan said in a statement. “Mark Begich, his loyal lieutenant, has spent the last 10 months trying to avoid talking about his failed record. Now is the time to focus on the real issues that matter the most to Alaskans.” 

Sullivan now has less than 2½ months to replenish his coffers and make his case against Begich, who has run one of the strongest campaigns of any Democrat so far this election cycle. 

Begich had raised more than $8.3 million and had over $2 million on hand at the end of July.  

Outside groups on both sides are certain to flood the relatively inexpensive Alaska airwaves with new ads, as the race is expected to remain tight through Election Day. The RCP polling average shows Begich ahead by 2.8 percentage points.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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