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Senator Mark Begich (D. AK) recently scored some praise for his work as Senator from someone you would never expect:

Rep. Don Young (R), the state's lone congressman, praised the work Begich has done as senator.

"Mark's done a great job of, very frankly, representing people. He's not always on my page, that's for sure, but he's done a good job," Young told The Hill on Wednesday.

Young, the longest-serving House Republican, said he expected Begich to face a tough race, however, due to some of his votes for Democratic priorities.

"His big challenge is some of the votes he made are not popular in the state of Alaska and, very frankly, it's a serious red state," he said. "He's done a good job in six years, but, very frankly, it's going to be hard for him." - The Hill, 1/15/14

This is surprising because Young has been considered Alaska's third Senator because of his influence in the House.  If I were Begich, I'd cut together a campaign ad with Young praising him.  Young is right though that Begich is going to face a tough fight this year because Super PAC backed candidate, Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan are spending big to get rid of him.  But Begich also has a Super PAC on his side:

FILE - In this  Oct. 15, 2013, file photo, Dan Sullivan, right, smiles while announcing a U.S. Senate bid in Anchorage, Alaska. On the left is his wife, Julie Fate Sullivan. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan says no one he's met on the campaign trail has questioned his residency or credentials as an Alaskan. The campaign of rival Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell has questioned Sulliivan's roots in Alaska, as has the state Democratic party. Sullivan moved to Alaska in 1997 and said he's maintained ties here, even while serving out of state with the Marines and in Washington in the administration of George W. Bush. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
The first super PAC to form was Put Alaska First, headed by Jim Lottsfeldt of Anchorage, a public relations and marketing consultant who supports Begich.

He said he created the committee after seeing what happened in Montana in 2012 when Democratic Sen. Jon Tester ran for re-election. More than $51 million poured into the state, about $100 per voter, mainly because the GOP saw a chance to gain a seat and the Democrats responded. The groups from outside Montana spent $21 million, almost as much as the candidates, ProPublica reported.

Lottsfeldt, who said he has supported Republicans and Democrats in the past, said he thinks the fundraising system is flawed, but “if my side decides to stand on a matter of pride and not play the game, my candidate’s going to lose.”

“I think it’s good for Alaska to re-elect Mark Begich because of where he stands on the issues," he said.

The group ran its first ad in December, a 30-second spot that defended Begich against an ad from an Outside group in which a Maryland actress, acting as if she lived in Alaska, said she was angry at Begich.

“Sen. Begich didn’t listen. How can I ever trust him again? It just isn’t fair. Alaska deserves better,” the actress said in the ad, which was paid for by Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by the Koch brothers. Americans for Prosperity is not a super PAC but a 501(c)4 organization that spent $36 million in the 2012 federal elections and does not have to reveal its donors.

Lottsfeldt said the ad was an example of how “Outside interests spend millions of dollars to influence Alaska voters,” while the response ad featured Megan Collie of Anchorage.

“I’m not an actress. I live here. And I trust Mark Begich,” Collie said in the ad. “He’s trying to fix the health care law. He turned down federal help to pay for his insurance. He signed up on the same website with the same plans and costs available to the rest of us.”

Lottsfeldt said that spending by super PACs from Outside and the 501(c)4 groups that don't disclose donors will probably outstrip the budgets of the super PACs in Alaska because of their nationwide reach, adding that conservative groups will spend millions of dollars making misleading claims about Begich.

“It’s an all-new world here and it’s changing rapidly,” Lottsfeldt said. “It strikes me that there’s a lot of national interest with huge amounts of money that can come in and swamp our little dinghies pretty easily with the wake from the luxury cruisers they’re driving.”

Alaska has not seen a campaign like the one to come, he said.

On that score he has no real disagreement with veteran Alaska political consultant Art Hackney, who heads the super PAC that supports Sullivan, Alaska’s Energy, America’s Values.

“With polling that shows Alaska to be a state that might well put somebody back in the red column in the U.S. Senate, people are going to spend a lot of money up here,” said Hackney.

“I knew that in an election like this, super PACs were an inevitability, and I just felt that a super PAC ought to be controlled by a group of Alaskans who understood that you don’t go in and just say ‘liberal, liberal, liberal’ and hit people on the head with a two-by-four,” he said.

It’s not a two-by-four, perhaps, but Hackney says his early ads attack Begich as “Malarkey Mark” because the incumbent has been running ads for three years, plugging along, delivering a message and building “up an armor of goodwill” that is undeserved.

One of Hackney's radio ads for the pro-Sullivan super PAC said, “Today the American Dream is being suffocated, and Sen. Mark Begich is part of the problem. Begich was the deciding vote for Obamacare. Now he’s trying to duck and hide. Alaska and America deserve better.”

Hackney said that multiple super PACs supporting Democrats will raise and spend millions of dollars to back Begich and that without a pro-Sullivan super PAC, “you're not equipped for the battle that's going to happen.”

Lottsfeldt said that while the pro-Sullivan forces are aiming at Begich, he argues that there is a Republican primary ahead and that “Sullivan is running third, behind Treadwell and Miller.” - Alaska Dispatch, 1/16/14

So we're in store for an expensive race in Alaska.  But of course there's the GOP primary.  You have Treadwell and Sullivan duking it out with the Super PAC cash but what about Tea Party wild card Joe Miller?  Will he be a serious threat?  Well, he's at least trying to prove himself to be a serious candidate:

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, a tea party-backed Republican, has notified the Alaska Court of Appeals that he intends to drop his challenge of a lower court ruling awarding more than $85,000 to Alaska Dispatch.

"We're pleased this is finally over. Mr. Miller's appeal was totally frivolous. It never should have been filed, and he should have (withdrawn) it long ago without wasting the time of the parties, the courts and the Federal Election Commission,” said John McKay, Alaska Dispatch's attorney.

Miller's decision comes just as the politician is ramping up his second run for one of Alaska's two U.S. Senate seats. He had a bittersweet election cycle in 2010. That year he beat Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski during the primary but later lost in the general election when she mounted a fierce write-in campaign to save her job.

Alaska Dispatch and other media went to court to gain access to employment records Miller wanted kept secret. The media won, and the records showed that Miller had been disciplined while working as a part-time attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough after sneaking into his coworkers' computers to rig a political poll. When the coworkers noticed something amiss, Miller lied about what he had done.

Miller kept the lawsuit alive after the election, pursuing judgments against his former employer and the mayor who served during Miller’s tenure with the borough. Media entities that were a party to the case were released from the litigation if they agreed to not seek damages from Miller, which as the prevailing parties they were entitled to do. Alaska Dispatch did not acquiesce to the request, and as a result was kept active in the litigation.

Last year, Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides ordered Miller to pay 75 percent of Alaska Dispatch's $112,000 in legal fees stemming from the case. The judgment amounted to about $94,000 for Miller, a higher-than-usual percentage of legal fees because Joannides found Miller's behavior in dragging out the lawsuit to be vexatious and in bad faith.

Miller received permission from the Federal Election Commission to use campaign funds to make the payment and deposited the money with the court while he appealed. - Alaska Dispatch, 1/16/14

From what I can tell, this is anybody's race when it comes to the primary.  Alaska has a history of the GOP's right-wing base splitting the vote.  Just ask Senator Lisa Murkowski (R. AK):

From left, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) Alaska, and Republican candidate Joe Miller laugh during  a political debate Tuesday, Oct 26, 2010 in Anchorage, Alaska.  Murkowski is running a write-in campaign following her loss in the primary to Miller. (AP Photo / Michael Dinneen)
Murkowski said Monday that she has no plans to wade into the GOP's primary, although she's willing to help her party in the race against Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK). But not just any Republican.

"If Joe Miller wins, I'm not probably going to be working too hard," Murkowski said, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

The two have an acrimonious history. Riding an endorsement from Sarah Palin, Miller defeated Murkowski in a 2010 GOP primary. But Murkowski got the last laugh in the general election, defeating the tea party candidate with an improbable write-in campaign. - TPM, 1/21/14

Can't say that I blame Murkowski for being hesitant about supporting someone like Miller.  Then again, I doubt any of the Republican candidates want her help.  Lets not forget that Murkowski only narrowly defeated Tony Knowles (D. AK) in 2004.  Murkowski's father, former Senator Frank Murkowski (R. AK), appointed her to the position in 2002 when he decided to run for Governor.  Frank Murkowski ended up losing to Sarah Palin (R. AK) in the 2006 primary.  Knowles also benefited from a split conservative base in his 1994 bid for Governor and a Republican write-in candidate splitting the GOP vote in his 1998 re-election race.  Republicans are giddy about this race but they also fear the GOP primary, and they should:

Meanwhile, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake cited GOP primary issues, well-prepared candidates and demographic changes among the reason for Democrats’ positive outlook, even as Obama’s approval ratings hover in the low 40s.

The GOP’s own unpopularity “gives these senators the ability to individually define their opponents, and Senate races have the kind of money necessary to individualize,” Lake said. - Roll Call, 1/15/14

So we shall see.  In the mean time, I'd like to give Begich a shout out for this:

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has come out against the proposed Pebble Mine, calling the massive gold-and-copper project "the wrong mine in the wrong place for Alaska."

In a statement released by his office Monday, Begich said he has long supported Alaska's mining industry and believes continued efforts must be made to support resource-development industries that help keep Alaska's economy strong. But he said "years of scientific study (have) proven the proposed Pebble Mine cannot be developed safely in the Bristol Bay watershed."

"Thousands of Alaskans have weighed in on this issue, and I have listened to their concerns," he said. "Pebble is not worth the risk."

In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated a review of large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region in response to concerns about the impact of the proposed Pebble Mine on fisheries. The agency released its final report last week, concluding that large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay watershed posed significant risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures that rely on it. The region is home to a world-premier sockeye salmon fishery.

The report did not recommend any policy or regulatory decisions. But EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran said it would serve as the scientific foundation for the agency's response to the tribes and others who petitioned EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay. Mine opponents have been pressing the agency to take steps to block or limit the project.

Begich, a Democrat, is the only member of the state's congressional delegation to outright oppose the project, and his position, first reported by the Anchorage Daily News, won praise from Pebble critics on Monday. - Bloomberg Businessweek, 1/21/14

Not to mention Begich is literally putting Alaska on the map:

After five years as a senator, the 51-year-old has developed a predator’s eye for such offending maps and he has his own kind of trophy case to prove it. “You’re right — we goofed,” Cathy Coughlin, AT&T senior executive vice president, wrote him in a now-framed letter that hangs in his Senate office. Beside the letter is a mock-up of a new ad complete with a disembodied Alaska floating off the coast of California. “You have my humble apology for our design flaw,” Jack Gerard, the chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, conceded in a different framed letter, showing an unusual amount of contrition for the oil industry. Even Sen. Al Franken, famous for his ability to draw the United States by memory, finds himself up on the glory wall with the likes of Honda and the National Mining Association. “I have now added both Hawaii and your state to my map,” Franken scrawled in a handwritten note. “I think of you every time I draw Alaska, cursing under my breath. Anyway, happy birthday.”

The relentless correcting of maps may seem like a petty act of a senator with too much time on his hands. But this isn’t just a lark, it’s a survival technique. Survival to keep Alaska in the American imagination and thus never completely out of sight from the country’s businessmen and appropriators.

Part of this Ahabian cartography project is to please his constituents — to whom he can now brag about actually getting something done — as he goes into one of the most difficult election campaigns of the 2014 cycle. Begich is one of the four Democrats up for reelection in a Republican state, all of whom would rather localize the election than run on unpopular national issues, such as Obamacare and votes to raise the debt limit. This means calling for a smaller federal budget, as long as Alaska — a state with an outsize need for outside money — keeps getting its fair share. Reminding people the state still exists is one way to do that. But for Begich, it’s about more than just that. It’s deeply personal.

“Leaving us off the map is just a sign that people don’t understand the importance of our state,” Begich said recently in his office. He has narrow eyes, with caterpillar eyebrows that crawl into a sharp uppercase M when he talks and a helmet of brown hair that looks like it would keep its integrity through an Alaskan cyclone. “A state this big and this rural has a set of issues hard to imagine. We can have wind forces of 120 miles per hour, and we’ll just call it a Tuesday.”

Understanding Alaska’s physical dangers isn’t just a figure of speech for Begich. He was only 10 years old in 1972, but he still remembers when President Richard Nixon called his house in Washington, D.C., to say his father, the state’s lone congressman at the time, had vanished en route to Juneau for a campaign fundraiser. He remembers flying back to Alaska and having to cram into a one-bedroom apartment with his mother and five siblings, and the fruitless 39-day search for the plane that had gone down carrying his father and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs.

“It was horrifying,” Begich said, bouncing his steepled hands off one another.

The state had taken his father but would remain a central part of his identity. The family history with Alaska goes back to before it was a state. His parents moved as teachers when it was just a territory, when the roads were so bad it was actually easier to drive on them when they were covered in snow. Begich remembers growing up in Anchorage as if it were a pioneer-version of “Leave it to Beaver”: crossing a creek to get to his log cabin kindergarten classroom, dips in the lake and traditional Midwestern dinners of sloppy joes and tuna on rice. - Washington Post, 1/21/14

If you would like to donate or get involved with Begich's campaign, you can do so here:

Originally posted to pdc on Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 10:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Pushing back at the Grand Bargain, Social Security Defenders, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and Native American Netroots.

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