In Alaska, Begich fights to the end

In Alaska, Begich fights to the end
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Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska political mess has legislators divided over meeting place Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world MORE (D-Alaska) isn't going down without a fight.

Begich has been viewed as an underdog for much of the fall in his reelection battle against former Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanOvernight Defense: Trump hits Iranian central bank with sanctions | Trump meeting with Ukrainian leader at UN | Trump touts relationship with North Korea's Kim as 'best thing' for US Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall MORE (R). But recent polling has shown a tight race and both sides are battling furiously for remaining pockets of voters.

“One way or the other it's going to come down to 1,000 or 2,000 votes,” said Art Hackney, an Alaska-based GOP strategist who is running a pro-Sullivan super-PAC. “I don't think anyone has any momentum. This is a slugfest.”

Begich has recovered from a slip around Labor Day, when he had to pull down a campaign ad that tied Sullivan to the release of a criminal who allegedly killed more people after he got out. The family of the victims protested about the ad.

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That mishap forced Begich to abandon one attack line, but he has responded by doubling down on ads painting the Ohio-born Sullivan as a carpet-bagger and blasting him on women’s issues. The Democrat has also touted his own work for the state.

Begich’s final ads seek to localize the race and highlight his willingness to split with President Obama on issues such as energy production and gun rights. They also feature promises to help change ObamaCare and “go anywhere and work with anyone to do what’s right for Alaskans.”

"Mark Begich is asking Alaskans for their vote by talking about his record of opening the National Petroleum Reserve to commercial oil development, securing historic agreements to deliver health care close to home for Alaska veterans, and the clout and seniority he uses to deliver results for Alaska. After months of attack ads from Outside groups, Alaskans know Dan Sullivan is trying to buy a Senate seat to represent himself and Outside interests, not Alaskans,” Begich spokesman Max Croes tells The Hill.

Sullivan has been firing back by tying Begich to Obama. He has been boosted by popular Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who took exception to Begich’s use of her in his ads and has been criticizing him ever since.

"Voters realize that there is a sharp contrast between Dan Sullivan and Mark Begich. Mark's record is one of failure, he has turned his back on Alaskans by voting with President Obama 97 percent of the time. Dan Sullivan's record of accomplishments and positive vision for Alaska's future resonates with voters,” Sullivan spokesman Mike Anderson tells The Hill.

Alaska is notoriously difficult to poll accurately. But both Democrats and Republicans believe the race is within the margin of error. Sullivan has a four-point lead in an internal survey that was shared with The Hill earlier this week, while a poll from Democratic firm Harstad Research found a tied race during the same period. Other polls have ranged from giving Sullivan a 6-point lead to suggesting Begich is ahead by 10 points.

The big question, according to strategists in both parties, is whether Begich’s vaunted ground game can overcome what appears to be a slight edge in the polls for Sullivan.

Because of Alaska’s small yet diverse population, a few thousand votes either way can turn a race on its head. Begich, who won by fewer than 4,000 votes in 2008, knows this well.

The senator has been working for years to construct a ground game that can help push him over the finish line, with 16 offices and close to 100 staff scattered across the state. Many are in rural Alaska, beating the bushes to turn out Alaska Native voters who lean Democratic.

Begich’s campaign says it has knocked on nearly 50,000 doors in the last week alone — almost 15 percent of the total number of votes that strategists expect will be cast.

Sullivan has been playing catch-up on the ground, and even some of his GOP allies admit he still lags.

“I've been yelling and screaming for six months that there's certainly a higher level of sophistication on the Begich side for the ground game,” said Hackney.

“Our door in Anchorage has been hit exactly 10 times now by the Begich campaign,” GOP pollster Marc Hellenthal, who recently found Begich up 10 points in his own poll, said. “The Sullivan campaign hasn't hit our door at all. Talking to other people I know, they also say the Begich campaign has hit their doors quite a few times, and only one or two have been hit by the Sullivan campaign.”

He’s hoping some last-minute rallies can help excite Republicans. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is in Alaska this weekend to help rally the conservative base and bring home any Tea Party voters who are thinking about staying away from their polling place or voting for Libertarian Mark Fish. Sullivan will close his campaign with a unity rally with former White House nominee Mitt Romney (R).

Both sides expect a close race — and one that could take days or weeks to decide. Alaska’s far-flung communities take time to get their ballots in to be officially counted, and mail ballots can take a week to get tallied.

“I think it'll be a week to two weeks before it's over,” said Hackney.