Monday, July 27, 2020

Race of the Day- Alaska U.S. Senate

Alaska U.S. Senate

99 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Likely Republican

Six years ago, Republican Dan Sullivan had to overcome a competitive three way primary, general election confusion with another candidate with the exact same name sharing the ballot as the party's Lt. Governor nominee, and ultimately a victory over a Democrat incumbent.

Republicans who go to Capitol Hill from Alaska tend to stick around a while. In his first term, Sullivan has not been very visible on a national scale. He is thought of as someone very different than Donald Trump both in terms of personality and on some major issues, yet he has of course been very wary to be too critical of the leader of the party. This year, Sullivan and Trump will have to share a ballot and for that reason, many think this could be a sleeper race. I tend to think that this incumbent will have at least a slightly easier path to victory than 2014 when he  unseated freshman Democrat Mark Begich 48 percent to 46 percent.

Begich declined an uphill attempt to reclaim his seat this cycle. He had suffered an additional loss two years ago as his party's nominee for Governor.  Sullivan, who has proven to be less controversial within his party than his senior college Lisa Murkowski is also not facing a primary challenge. Still some feel he that with his low profile, the first time officeholder might be somewhat vulnerable. Democrats are probably focused more on their long standing and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to defeat the state's long-time polarizing at large House member.

Interestingly enough, there is a law in place in Alaska that allows non-party members to be listed a such on a primary ballot and still be nominated. This year, for both the Senate and House race, Democrats seem to be lined up behind candidates who are technically Independents, despite the fact that others will be on the August primary ballot as Democrats. This is similar to how they turned away from their official nominee for Governor and backed an Independent instead in a race they wound up winning on the day that Sullivan won his Senate election.

Democrat Edgar Blatchford is running for the Senate, as he did in 2016, and his resume includes a stint at the Mayor of Seward and as a commissioner in state government. However, he is considered pretty much an afterthought as state and national Democrats have lined up behind Independent Al Gross who is making his first bid for office. As far as I know, nobody named Gross has ever won a statewide election (while many Sullivans have succeeded in politics) so he will have to for one thing overcome a difficult ballot name.

This particular Gross has an interesting biography. The adage goes that Jewish-Americans tend to be adverse to fishing and hunting, but this one has been a commercial fisherman in Alaska. He also once allegedly killed a grizzly bear in self defense. Hailing from a prominent family in Alaska, Gross is an orthopedic surgeon who is running this Senate campaign with the title "Dr." prominently featured.

Gross has succeeded in raising an impressive amount of money in this campaign and a Democrat sponsored poll this month puts him within shouting distance from Sullivan, albeit with many undecided voters. The thing about Alaska polling though, is that due to the remoteness of large parts of the state, it might be harder to poll than anywhere in the lower 48 and Republicans tend to do better on Election Day than they do in polls. That same poll showed Donald Trump with an even smaller lead on Joe Biden in the state.

If national Republicans truly become concerned about Sullivan, you can expect them to pour in financial resources to thus not take anything for granted. Recently, amid the Covid 19 pandemic, a Sullivan fundraiser in Alaska was interrupted by a protestor rushing the stage with a bloody caribou heart. Dare I say, that sounds a bit "gross?"

If this race winds up being very close, it will be heavily watched at the wee hours of the morning on Election Night and probably for days to weeks afterwards. That would be very bad news for Republicans though. While Gross may have an appeal to some in the state, any federal incumbent Republican, not recently convicted of a felony, is still probably going to win statewide.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

0 D
2 R (1 Likely, 1 Lean)

Total with predictions thus far:

35 Democrats (35 holdovers)
32 Republicans (30 holdovers, 1 Likely, 1 Lean)


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