Former Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan has won his GOP Senate primary, setting up a key battle with vulnerable Sen. Mark BegichMark BegichThe future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map Trump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide MORE (D-Alaska).
The Associated Press has called the race for Sullivan, who led 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller (R) 40 percent to 32 percent with 80 percent of precincts reporting. Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R) was in third place, with 25 percent.
Miller said in a statement that he congratulated Sullivan in a phone call.
“While there are still over 20,000 absentee ballots to be counted and several major precincts yet to report, it seems unlikely we will be able to close the 7000 vote gap, given the current trends,” Miller said in a statement. “I have called and congratulated Dan Sullivan for running a strong campaign.”
“The pundits said our grassroots campaign (being outspent 10 to 1) did not stand a chance, but I think 'We the People' surprised more than a few tonight,” Miller added.
Both parties have reserved millions of dollars in fall airtime and there’s likely to be little reprieve for Sullivan — or for Alaska TV watchers.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (Kan.) praised Sullivan's "service and sacrifice" to the state and expressed confidence in his chances against the vulnerable Democratic incumbent.
"Mark Begich has championed the Obama agenda, and served on Harry Reid's leadership team that has brought the Senate to a grinding halt," said Moran. "Harry Reid's Senate no longer allows debate on ideas, amendments or bipartisan legislation which hurts domestic energy development and most certainly is a detriment to the Alaskan economy and job market.
"Even though Senator Begich has failed to pass even a single amendment during his five years in Washington, he has voted for the Obama agenda a staggering 97% of the time — including costly energy taxes, spending increases, and of course, ObamaCare."
Meanwhile, Democrats wasted no time in attacking Sullivan.
"After carrying water for Sarah Palin and trying to restrict access to public lands for hunters and fishers, Sullivan is now hoping to do the Koch brothers' bidding in the US Senate," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee deputy executive director Matt Canter said in a statement. "Sullivan is an Outsider and his campaign is bankrolled by Outside special interests that want to privatize Medicare and Social Security, eliminate a federal minimum wage, and protect tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas."
Begich enters the general election with a cash edge, though Sullivan has proven adept as a fundraiser since he got into the race early this year. Begich had approximately $2 million left in the bank as of the end of July, while Sullivan had slightly less than $1 million.
Sullivan ran a much better funded and better organized race than his two primary opponents. He was also helped by establishment support from national groups including American Crossroads, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the conservative Club for Growth, which had backed Miller four years ago after he upset GOP Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiA guide to the committees: Senate Public lands dispute costs Utah a major trade show Oprah's network provides Senate with tape of abuse allegations by Puzder's ex-wife: report MORE in the primary.
But he had to fight a two-front war for months, with Begich and his allies ripping into his record and highlighting his Ohio roots. The approximately $4 million in attack ads from the Begich-aligned super-PAC Put Alaska First likely contributed to a closer primary than what Sullivan otherwise would have faced.
Miller ran a disciplined campaign on a shoestring budget, and his fervent base helped propel him to a better showing than many predicted until the closing days of the primary. He also got last-minute endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).
Miller has ruled out running as a third-party or write-in candidate.
Treadwell, by contrast, faded fast after generating early buzz in the race, struggling with fundraising and losing most of his campaign staff earlier in the year. He has conceded and vowed to work for the eventual nominee.
—This post was updated at 11:22 a.m.