Late last week, U.S. Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan took his campaign to Bethel. The challenger to Senator Mark Begich, who, if successful, may be the Senator that tilts the power balance in the Senate from Democratic to Republican.
On a clear and chilly Friday afternoon at the Alaska Territorial Guard Park, Senate candidate Dan Sullivan walks along the Wall of Honor and asks resident Tundy Rogers about names of those who served.
“Sullivan: Is that your uncle?, Tundy: my stepdad’s over there, I’ve got cousins in Eek, Quinhagak, Goodnews, Hooper Bay, damn near the whole wall. Sullivan: Boy, proud tradition.”
Wearing his combat boots, the Lieutenant Colonel in a Marine Corps Reserve unit was getting the face-to-face contact with potential voters that many say is essential to success in rural Alaska. Retail politics of course is one voter at a time. Buck Bukowski is wearing a button that reads Yupik for Begich.
“Sullivan: I’m going to try and convince you to change buttons. Bukowski: I don’t know..”
Less than three weeks before election day, Friday’s visit marks Sullivan’s first to the Y-K Delta in over a year of campaigning. The rhetoric, however, between the two campaigns has already reached a shrill pitch on rural issues. Sullivan alleges that incumbent Senator Mark Begich has been saying that he has the Native Vote.
A statement that Begich spokesperson Max Croes says his boss has never made. It’s ugly on both sides: the Begich campaign has positioned Sullivan as an adversary to subsistence users, tribes, and rural Alaska. Sullivan, however, is quick to defend his rural cred.
“But I have very deep ties with the Alaska Native community that go much deeper than my opponent’s, because they’re family. My daughters are Alaska Native girls, and my wife is Alaska Native. And we’re going around the state with a great leadership team. I’m very proud to have some of the most prominent Alaska Native Leaders and rural leaders in the state, from all parts of the state, supporting the Sullivan campaign,” said Sullivan.
Begich, has said repeatedly that this race will be decided in rural Alaska and has opened 16 field offices. That presence was apparent at a Bethel Chamber of Commerce lunch, where Democratic staff sat in the back and a tracker with a national group working to elect democratic candidates, videotaped Sullivan’s every word, looking for a slip up or material to be used in ads.
After a stump speech focusing on low cost energy, reducing federal overreach, improving public safety, and dealing with the salmon crisis, Sullivan heard directly from Bethel residents.
In the first question, Bethel resident John Wallace said he was disappointed that Sullivan did not attend the Association of Village Council Presidents Conference earlier this month.
“Didn’t get an invitation, so you, know, you kind of, but we’re here, right, we’re here, I’m here, she was here at the event, for the very reason you mentioned, to get out, talk to people,” said Sullivan.
She, was Sullivan’s wife, Julie Fate Sullivan. Dan Sullivan planned to travel to Hooper Bay and Aniak over the weekend to shake as many hands of potential voters as possible, along with Senator Lisa Murkowksi, who’s endorsed him.
Sharon Chakuchin attended Sullivan’s lunch. She says that not knowing the extent of Sullivan’s involvement in the Katie John lawsuit, which the state appealed when he was Attorney General gave her pause.
“We just heard that term, Katie John, and it strikes a chord in your heart, oh my gosh, Katie John, that’s terrible, so I figured we had to know the other side, we have to know what that’s about,” said Chakuchin.
Sullivan says he was just doing his job to protect state sovereignty, but he say he supports the federal rural subsistence priority. But his opponents consider the decades-long lawsuit an attack on rural and Alaska Native subsistence rights.
Sullivan will come face-to-face with his record as Attorney General this week at the state’s largest gathering of Native people, the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Both Senate candidates are proudly listing prominent rural and Alaska Native endorsements. Sullivan planned to campaign in Aniak with former state representative Carl Morgan.
“I think and know that he’s going to do a lot of plus for bush Alaska,” said Morgan.
Sullivan says, if he’s elected he’ll forge a new relationship between the region and federal government and work to bring opposing sides together to fix the subsistence system.
“One of the things I’m a big big proponent of is sitting down with all the differnet stakeholders, hearing them out, and trying to get common ground and move forward. Can we do that on subsistence? I think so,” said Sullivan.
Early voting begins October 20th. Election day is November 4th.