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FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2010 file photo, Republican candidate Joe Miller speaks with reporters in Juneau, Alaska. A draft advisory opinion would allow Joe Miller to use campaign funds to pay a legal judgment in a case stemming from his unsuccessful 2010 U.S. Senate run. The Federal Election Commission is scheduled to consider the draft opinion this week.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Probably a good call on their end:

A national tea party group that heavily backed Republican Joe Miller’s campaign four years ago has not decided whether to endorse anyone in this year’s Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist for the Tea Party Express, told The Associated Press on Monday that the philosophical contrast between the candidates is “not as dramatic” as it was in 2010.

“They’re all pretty much running on a conservative platform,” he said.

Miller was the group’s choice in the 2010 GOP primary because it saw a clear contrast between him and the incumbent, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, he said.

The group saw Murkowski as part of the problem in Washington and endorsed Miller, who upset her in the primary. Miller wound up losing the contentious general election to Murkowski, who mounted a write-in campaign to keep her job.

Miller is running again this year and is one of three prominent Republicans in the race. The others are with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former state Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan.

They are seeking to replace Democrat Mark Begich, a first-term senator up for re-election. Republicans see the seat as key to their efforts to win back control of the Senate.

Russo said his group finds this year’s top GOP contenders to be philosophically similar.

In evaluating candidates, the Tea Party Express looks at several criteria, including how committed they would be to reducing the size and cost of government, their ability to put together viable campaigns, a demonstration of grassroots support and examples that show they would be willing to make difficult decisions, even if they’re unpopular, he said.

Of the major Republican contenders, “I think we’re convinced that all three of them have that ability and willingness to stand up and make tough choices and get the country back on track,” Russo said.

Russo said his group is carefully monitoring the race. “But we haven’t gotten to the point of whether there’s one candidate we think is so much better that we should get engaged at this point. We may yet,” he said. - Juneau Empire, 7/1/14

But Miller still remains the Wild Card in the GOP primary:

On Monday, Alaska’s largest Tea Party organization -- Conservative Patriots Group -- announced its endorsement of Miller, and he previously earned the backing of other grassroots conservative groups, including Gun Owners of America and Alaska Right to Life.

Miller also has drawn relatively large crowds for an Alaska politician in his public events around the state -- a sign that his supporters remain dedicated.

"All this indicates to me, that our campaign has grassroots support," Miller spokesperson Randy DeSoto said in an email. "The next weeks will be filled with Joe traveling the state to participate in campaign events, parades, festivals, and debates/forums, making the case why he is the only true conservative in the race."  

Alaska remains a notoriously difficult state to poll accurately, and many of the libertarian-leaning GOP primary voters who compose Miller’s base live in some of the more remote enclaves of the state, where they can be difficult for pollsters to reach.  

In recent campaign appearances, the challenger has cited Dave Brat’s stunning defeat of Eric Cantor in Virginia’s 7th District GOP primary last month as reason to believe that the polls and national pundits once again have his race all wrong.  

And he has is unwavering in presenting himself as the most hardline option available to the deeply conservative Alaska Republican primary electorate.

“Obamacare is not a compromise issue,” Miller said at a recent town-hall meeting, according to the Homer News. “Sarah Palin said death panels will become a reality. That’s a fact. Your treatment is going to be decided by the government -- you’re going to lose treatment options.”

Miller’s mentioning of Palin and death panels may sound like an outdated throwback to his last campaign, but he is clearly cognizant that the woman who helped push him over the top in the 2010 primary still has the potential to move some conservative votes in 2014.  

But Palin has stayed out of her home state’s marquee primary race, focusing instead on trying to boost other Tea Party-aligned candidates in the Lower 48. “She has bigger fish to fry,” one source close to Palin said when asked if the former vice presidential candidate intended to get involved in the Alaska primary this year. - Real Clear Politics, 7/3/14

We shall see.  Meanwhile, Dan Sullivan's (R. AK) WikiLeaks problem is starting to make headlines in local news:

Only seven of the Wikileaks cables that mention Sullivan’s name were classified as “secret,” though several shed light on his role in pressing Turkmenistan’s government to authorize the restart of a surveillance program at the American embassy there that had been shut down.

Those cables read like they came from a spy novel, describing how a lower-level Turkmenistan official told an American diplomat to “never send another diplomatic note” about the surveillance program, even as he “scribbled on a blank piece of paper, ‘Only president can solve.’”

That led to a request by the U.S. official in charge of the Turkmenistan embassy that Sullivan pull aside President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov during a meeting to press him on the surveillance program. (“Did you see the guy’s name?” Sullivan asked in an interview. “It took me forever to figure out how to pronounce it, so I just referred to him as Mr. President.”)

Berdimuhamedov told Sullivan that Turkmenistan law enforcement had established that the American program had violated the country’s laws, but added he would tell his foreign ministry to set “mutually agreed limits.”

Sullivan said that the surveillance program was not part of his normal portfolio at the State Department, but was one issue the U.S. wanted to raise while he had access to Turkmenistan’s president.

“In Central Asia and the Caspian region, those are dangerous neighborhoods, and we want to make sure our diplomats and their families are protected,” Sullivan said.

He added that he had “zero” to do with the National Security Agency or domestic surveillance.

McBeath, the UAF professor, said he didn’t think the cables showed that Sullivan was “a loose guy, as far as surveillance.”

The program may or may not have broken Turkmenistan’s laws, McBeath added, but it should be viewed in the context of attacks on American embassies -- areas that he called an “extension of our nation state.”

“From the American perspective, if you’re going to be blowing up our embassies, you’re going to be watching everyone who comes through your door,” McBeath said. - Alaska Dispatch, 6/29/14

While the foreign policy stuff may not make a real difference in this race, promoting surveillance may cause a problem for Sullivan in state like Alaska that is Libertarian when it comes to civil liberties.  Miller and Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell (R. AK) have been focusing their attacks towards Sullivan:

All three candidates were given plenty of time for jabs at one another throughout the two-hour debate.

The debate was hosted by Southcentral women's Republican groups with the help of two local talk radio stations, which stepped in to cover the costs of the event after Alaska Republican Party officials raised questions about whether the clubs -- which lacked accounts registered with the Federal Election Commission -- would have violated federal election laws by running the debate themselves.

Miller's campaign alleged that those concerns were manufactured by establishment members of the Republican Party in concert with Sullivan, in an attempt to scuttle the debate.

The divide between Miller and mainstream GOP members was still on display Thursday evening as he criticized "the corrupt power within the Republican party" and members of both parties who "want to compromise."

"This is a country right now that is under attack in many ways," he said in his opening statement.

Sullivan, in his own opening statement, was more positive, saying the Republican Party was "one big happy family" in spite of "a little squabbling."

He fell in with both Miller and Treadwell in launching sharp attacks on "federal overreach" but also sounded more optimistic when describing Alaska and its economy -- especially in areas where he claimed to have played a role, like oil and gas.

"We are turning the corner," he said, "because we have instituted policies of less government and more economic freedom," citing the recent natural gas boom in Cook Inlet.

Treadwell came down somewhere in between, repeating themes from a recent campaign video in his opening statement when he said that "we have a government that spends too much, borrows to much, prints too much, snoops too much."

He didn't endorse some of Miller's more radical ideas, like abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, but he did attack Sullivan for the support he'd attracted from Outside GOP establishment figures like former President George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove. (An independent group with ties to Rove has run TV ads boosting Sullivan's candidacy.)

Treadwell also took a shot at the more than $50,000 in contributions to Sullivan's campaign that have come from family members and executives at an Ohio company that makes industrial products, including paint, that's run by Sullivan's brother.

"It's not your brother's Senate seat," Treadwell told Sullivan. "I sometimes feel like I'm running against a paint company from Ohio." - Anchorage Daily News, 6/27/14

By the way, Sullivan was rated "False" by PolitiFact on this issue:

In his campaign for Senate, Republican front-runner Dan Sullivan touts his history of protecting Second Amendment rights in the hunting-loving state of Alaska.

But a recent pro-Sullivan ad might have stretched the rifle and pistol expert’s record a little too far.

"As Alaska’s attorney general, Sullivan successfully fought to protect our Second Amendment rights and passed ‘stand your ground,’ " said a recent radio ad out of the Sullivan campaign.

In 2013, the Alaska Legislature passed a "stand your ground" law, which typically allows a person to use deadly force if they believe they face an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. More than 20 states have such laws. "Stand your ground" became a hot topic following George Zimmerman’s acquittal, after he claimed self-defense in his 2013 trial for killing Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

But Sullivan’s opponents -- Democrat and Republican -- have challenged his record, saying "stand your ground" legislation in Alaska wasn’t his doing. He’s running against incumbent Democrat Mark Begich and, on the Republican side, tea partier Joe Miller and Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. We decided to sort this out.

"Stand your ground" was first introduced in the Alaska Legislature in 2010. At the time, Sullivan served as the state’s attorney general, heading an office that reviews every law moving through the Legislature.

The original "stand your ground" bill failed to pass. A second iteration of the bill appeared and failed in 2011.

Sullivan left the attorney general’s office to become the commissioner of natural resources at the end of 2010 -- long before a final version of the bill passed in 2013. So even though "stand your ground" first appeared in the Alaska Legislature when Sullivan was in a position to put his support behind it, it wasn’t successful until he had moved on to other positions. - PolitiFact, 7/2/14

By the way, you can tell Sullivan's a little nervous about Treadwell because he's resorting to attacking him on this:

Did Republican Senate candidate Mead Treadwell go to a “pro-Putin rally" in Washington, D.C. last month?

That’s how Treadwell’s attendance at the World Russia Forum was described in a few choice words from the campaign of his Republican primary opponent, former Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. The campaign's Facebook and email statements Monday linked to a Daily Beast article about the event.

“Meet the Anti-Semites, Truthers, and Alaska Pol at D.C.’s Pro-Putin Soiree,” the Daily Beast article was headlined. It quoted Treadwell as saying in a speech, “Do not forget: we are neighbors because people will be affected.”

“Tell that to the Ukrainians,” Daily Beast writer James Kirchick added.

“Mead, what were you thinking?” said a headline on the emailed Sullivan campaign statement.

The Sullivan campaign shared the link as an ICYMI -- in case you missed it -- not a press release and “simply an article that we were highlighting,” campaign spokesman Mike Anderson said.

Treadwell said in an interview Wednesday that the attack had been silly and showed that Sullivan was out of touch with issues relevant to Alaska.

Maintaining a relationship between Alaska and Russia is important foreign policy, Treadwell said. He said he accepted the invitation to speak at the June 16 forum at the Hart Senate Office Building “because I knew the Russians would be listening.” - News Miner, 7/2/14

You can read the Daily Beast article here:

While these guys duke it out, Senator Mark Begich (D. AK) is reaching out to key constituency that needs to come out to help him get re-elected:

No roads go this deep into the tundra, especially not for Democrats.

Not that politics weigh too heavily on the mind when people are consumed with more basic needs, like catching enough fish to eat or scraping together the $6 a gallon it costs to fill up their boat with gas.

“It’s really hard to describe to people how we live here; we don’t even have cement,” said Vivian Korthuis, pointing down at the boardwalk that serves as the main road in town. The freezing and thawing of the permafrost, which this time of year is mostly mud, would shatter concrete. “When I went to school on the East Coast, it was like describing living on the moon.”

Unlikely as it may seem, Democrats consider tiny tribal villages like this one — about 60 miles upriver from the Bering Sea, with a population a little over 400 — so vital to their tenuous majority in the United States Senate that they are building a vast outreach operation here and across rural Alaska. Native populations are one of the most important but least understood constituencies for the Democratic Party, and as Alaska has shown, they do not predictably break for one party or the other.

Six years ago, their support made all the difference for Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat who persuaded the tribes to vote for him over Ted Stevens. Mr. Stevens, the incumbent, was a towering figure among Alaska Natives until his legal troubles proved too much to overcome.

This year, Democrats are redoubling their outreach, knowing that just a few votes in a few small villages could tip the balance of Mr. Begich’s re-election bid, and possibly the entire Senate. The effort, like a similar one aimed at Native Americans in Montana, will involve 130 workers in five new field offices spread out across a land mass roughly twice the size of Texas — from here in the state’s southwest to north of the Arctic Circle.

Working with local chiefs and community leaders, they will undertake the kind of face-to-face campaigning that is so critical in remote areas, where votes are won not with attack ads or automated phone calls but the old-fashioned way: by visiting people at their homes, registering those who have never voted and persuading as many of them as possible to mail ballots in early. - New York Times, 6/28/14

Begich has a great record on Native American affairs and recently got into a heated dispute with Senator Claire McCaskill (D. MO) over this:

UNITED STATES - MAY 23: Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., participates in the news conference to announce
Sen. Mark Begich lit into fellow Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri after she sent a letter to the Small Business Administration administrator seeking details about the use of a small and disadvantaged business contracting program by Alaska Native Corporations.

“It’s no secret many senators still have quite the learning curve when it comes to understanding the unique needs of Alaska. What is especially troubling are those who refuse to take the time to understand our needs and challenges while continuing to take actions intended to unfairly punish and target our way of life,” Begich said in a statement. “I’m afraid my colleague, Senator McCaskill — through her narrow lens as a ‘government oversight and efficiencies guru’ — has trouble understanding Alaska history, even with my repeated attempts to reason with her.”

The feud between Begich and McCaskill isn’t new — the Missouri Democrat has gone after the treatment of the businesses owned by Alaska natives in the 8(a) contracting program before — but Wednesday’s comments from Begich are scathing, nonetheless.

“As you know, in the 1980s and 1990s, Congress passed a series of laws which made ANCs eligible for federal contracting opportunities, including SBA’s 8(a) program,” McCaskill wrote in her letter dated June 30. “Since then, many ANCs have grown to the multi-million dollar corporations that are among the largest federal contractors. In 2009, I held a hearing that highlighted my concerns about ANCs’ participation in the 8(a) program, including a lack of oversight by SBA, the use of ANCs to circumvent the federal contracting process, and that the benefits were not reaching disadvantaged Alaskan natives.”

In his statement, Begich said that the success of the corporations is no reason to take actions that would undercut their eligibility for the SBA program.

“The benefits they provide through the 8(a) program, including scholarships, services, jobs and dividends, support some of the most economically challenged areas of the country and improves the lives of thousands,” he said. “Just because ANC’s have seen economic growth and success, as they were intended to do, doesn’t mean they deserve this type of targeted attack from a sitting senator who simply refuses to try and understand the history and culture of a great state like Alaska.” - Roll Call, 7/2/14

Begich recently picked up some endorsements:

Three Fairbanks-area mayors from past and present have lent their support to Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in a campaign ad released today.

Appearing in the ad are city of Fairbanks Mayor John Eberhart, current Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins and former borough Mayor Jim Whitaker.

"We're all voting for Mark Begich," the three say in unison in the ad, Eberhart standing in front of Fairbanks City Hall, Whitaker on the streets of downtown Fairbanks and Hopkins in front of a coal-fired power plant.

Whitaker, who served as borough mayor prior to Hopkins, also points out that he's a Republican (a Republican who also spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention). Eberhart and Hopkins, whose positions are both non-partisan, have been more liberal-leaning, with backers with ties to the Alaska Democratic Party. - News Miner, 7/1/14

He's growing his grassroots campaign:

With three Republican Party candidates fighting to oppose him in the general election, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, visited Homer and Seldovia last weekend as part of a grassroots campaign laying the groundwork for the November election.

The Alaska Democratic Party soon plans to open a Homer office for Begich and gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott. Mallott is the only Democrat running for the party nomination, and Begich faces token opposition in the primary from William Bryk of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Under federal election rules, if Bryk wins the Democratic Party nomination, he can run for U.S. senator for Alaska if he is a resident here on election day in November.

In the general election, the race will come down to differences between him and the Republican Party winner, Begich said. Look at what the Republicans have said, he said.

“They would love to get rid of Medicare as we know it today,” Begich said. “When it comes to equal pay, they’re not for it. They would reduce the minimum wage.”

Sullivan in particular has criticized Begich for voting for the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Begich said access to health care has been improved in Alaska.

“It used to be 34 percent couldn’t get it,” he said. “Today? Not getting denied. Is the law perfect? No. We’re going to try to fix it.”

Begich said he talked to one woman who didn’t have health care before.

“She’s grateful to finally have health care. She’s talking about it,” he said. “This is how we win this election, your story to another person, talking about it.”

Begich said he understands that a lot of Alaskans don’t like Obama. But when it comes to Alaska issues, “The Alaska delegation is 100 percent,” he said. “When you look at other issues, Lisa (Sen. Murkowski, R-Alaska) and I vote 75 percent together. There is no other delegation that votes that together. Overall, we’re working for one goal, what’s good for Alaska.”

In response to a question from Susan Cushing about how Begich will reach out to young people, Begich mentioned his support for a bill refinancing student loans at 4 percent. That bill failed in the Senate.

“That’s crushing people, crushing people and their families,” he said of high interest on student loans. “We loan money to banks at a quarter of a percent, but we cannot go out there for some reason and get a 4 percent loan? That makes no sense.”

As senator, Begich said he gets phone calls on a lot of issues both local and federal. Each night he tries to return five phone calls, he said. In Seldovia a guy asked him how to get an initiative on the state ballot. Begich answered the question.

“It wasn’t important to him that it was a state, local or federal issue,” he said. “What was important was that I had an answer.” - Homer News, 7/2/14

And Begich is ready to run a tough campaign:

Alaska Senator Mark Begich spoke with about 45 Seward residents at the Resurrect Art Coffee House and Gallery Tuesday afternoon, July 1st, after visiting Seward’s new federally-qualified community health clinic. The campaigning senator showed up 30-minutes late, casually dressed in a green shirt and jeans. Speaking rapidly to a diverse group of residents, he thanked everyone for waiting, and apologized for the political television ads that have been inundating the Alaska media for months. All that his opponents are really doing is “being negative and blaming people,” he said. They are the result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision “Citizen’s United,” which allows corporations and individuals to make unlimited contributions to political candidates and issues, he said. Begich favors a return to campaign contribution limits.

Begich predicted that his opponents would spend between 10 -15 million more dollars in an all-out media battle to defeat him, and said 20 thousand negative ads have already run against him, funded by individuals and corporations.

“It’s sickening to watch the two sides go back and forth,” commented Seward resident Jerry Pickett earlier as he awaited the senator’s arrival. “I get so fed up with the accusations that aren’t even from the state. It’s outsiders making a big mess of stuff and it’s not right.”

Whichever republican candidate wins state republican primary August 19th, and goes on to oppose him in the November 4 general election, Dan Sullivan, or Joe Miller, Begich believes the election will be extremely close, possibly only a 1-2 percent vote difference as was the case when he was elected six years ago. That time he realize he’d won only after the write-in and early votes were tallied two weeks after the election.

Begich said he’ll offer a grass-roots, traditional campaign, with offices and organizers from Seward and many other communities going door to door and handing out signs and bumper stickers. He pledged to personally campaign hard across the state, and added he’ll focus the campaign on his record, and on upcoming issues facing Alaska, although he also pledged to forcefully address any untruths that his opponents may put out about his record.

The issues Begich cares most about everybody already knows, he said: veterans affairs, health and welfare, rural Alaska Native issues, women’s health care, equal rights, fisheries, military jobs and infrastructure and harbors among them.

Veterans across the U.S. are unable to receive health care and the Veterans Administration has been in crisis, he said. But Alaska is being recognized as being on the forefront of the states doing it right. During Begichs’ time in office the state’s waiting list of Alaskan veterans was reduced from a thousand to practically none, and now veterans living in Alaska can receive medical care through their local tribal consortiums and qualified health providers rather than having to fly great distances to go to VA hospitals in Anchorage or Seattle.

The senator also addressed spiraling student loan debt, and his unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation that would have lessened the burden young people have by allowing them to refinance their outstanding student loans at lower interest rates. - Seward City News, 7/3/14

Speaking of the issues, Begich did not have nice things to say about this:

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 09:  U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) (R) speaks at a press conference highlighting how veterans are being impacted by the government shutdown with (L-R) Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) at the U.S. Capitol Oc
U.S. Senator Mark Begich released the following statement in response to today's Supreme Court decision that struck down key components of a provision that guaranteed birth control access for women.

"I disagree with today's Supreme Court decision. Bosses should not be able to prevent access to family planning and birth control for Alaska women. This is unacceptable. As Alaskans, we don't want the government intruding into our lives and telling us how to make personal decisions. Ninety-nine percent of women will use contraceptives at some point in their lives and this decision shows how out of touch the Supreme Court is with Alaskans," said Begich. "A woman's health care decisions should be between herself and in consultation with her doctor. I will continue to fight to protect all Alaskans' right to privacy and that includes a women's right to make her own health care decisions."

Without birth control coverage in their health plan, Alaska women are at risk of not being able to get the health care that they and their doctor determine is best for them. In addition, women could face higher health costs than their male counterparts and other lost economic opportunities given that access to birth control has contributed to increased participation in the workforce.

IMS Institute on Health Care Informatics showed that last year women and families saved an average of $269 on their out-of-pocket costs on birth control. For Alaska's working families, $40 a month for birth control can make the difference between buying a tank of gas or groceries for the week.

Today the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, in which for-profit companies challenged the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) guarantee that women receive health insurance coverage of birth control without cost-sharing. - Insurance News Net, 6/30/14

Begich knows he's in for a serious fight and he's going to need our help.  Click here to donate and get involved with Begich's campaign:

Originally posted to pdc on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 07:13 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party and Native American Netroots.

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