If elections just came down to funding, Dan Sullivan would easily win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.
But after the August primary, Sullivan might go head-to-head with Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Begich. Millions of dollars back both candidates. National Republicans and Democrats have identified Alaska as a key battleground state for control of the U.S. Senate, so the high levels of funding were expected by many.
A rapid rise
Alaska’s former Department of Natural Resources commissioner and Attorney General Dan Sullivan logged the first four campaign donations for his bid to be Alaska’s next U.S. Senator on Oct. 15.
By the end of the year, Sullivan had significantly distanced himself from his primary opponents.
His cash-on-hand totals were nearly five times that of Joe Miller, and almost 12 times what Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell had in the bank.
Those margins have grown significantly in 2014 even as Sullivan spends far more money than his competition.
“For the second consecutive quarter, Dan Sullivan has out-raised both Republican and Democratic candidates — combined. Additionally, in the first quarter of 2014, Sullivan garnered more Alaskan support than each of his primary opponents — raising over $134,000 from Alaskans,” said Mike Anderson, spokesperson for the Sullivan campaign.
Sullivan reported contributions of $1.26 million in his first 2014 quarterly report — which brought his cash-on-hand total to just under $2 million. The fundraising and spending appears to be paying off with voters, too.
At the statewide Republican convention in Juneau last week, his campaign released a poll conducted by Portland-based Moore Information that showed Sullivan with a 16-point lead over Treadwell and a 26-point lead over Miller.
Moore Information did live interviews with 500 likely voters using cell phones and landlines to determine the current standing. The firm has been used by Republicans regularly in the past. Sullivan’s campaign paid for the survey.
Miller not counting on dollars
Joe Miller shocked the Alaska political world in 2010 when he beat presumed favorite Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary. His primary win proved to be in vain as Murkowski went on to win the Senate seat with a write-in campaign in the general election. The dollars Miller raised four years ago have covered slow fundraising quarters this time around.
Since April 1 last year, Miller has raised just under $164,000 while spending about $201,000 on campaign operations. Miller used campaign funds to pay more than $94,000 in personal legal fees stemming from the 2010 election.
Still, about $100,000 of the donations came in the first quarter of 2014 — an encouraging sign for the campaign.
“The entire cost of the 2010 Joe Miller campaign was about ($300,000),” campaign press secretary Randy Desoto said. “If we can keep building on that momentum we’ll have all the resources we need to get our message out, engage the grassroots and succeed on Election Day.”
Miller reported nearly $300,000 in cash-on-hand, largely because he transferred $435,500 from his last campaign committee.
Of the $200,000 spent by Miller, about $54,000 has gone to the campaign’s political director, Matthew Johnson of Chugiak, and Desoto has been compensated $22,000 for his work. Miller also paid Justin Hart of Ashburn, Va., nearly $11,000 for website work.
Desoto pointed out that Murkowski had about $2 million on hand — compared to about $125,000 for Miller — just about a month before Miller won the primary.
“It will be about getting people to turn out to polls,” Desoto said. “If we can get that level of turnout again, we think we can prevail in the primary and go on to defeat Mark Begich in the general election.”
Debt saddles former favorite
Earlier this year, Treadwell held a 2-point lead over the surging Sullivan, but voter support isn’t the only thing that’s diminished for the lieutenant governor.
Treadwell ended the most recent reporting period with just $142,749 in cash and more than $234,000 in debts owed. Treadwell loaned his campaign $50,000 12 days after officially announcing his plans to seek the nomination last summer. That quarter, he reported an additional $120,000 in donations, and that number rose to $196,147 and then $228,425, respectively, for each of the next two quarters in 2013.
But his funding has fallen off sharply this year. Factoring in another loan, this time of $175,500, Treadwell raised just $123,483 between January 1 and March 31 of this year.
When he announced his intentions, Treadwell told the Associated Press that he figured he would need “several” million to unseat Begich.
The Treadwell campaign did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
A costly November battle
Should the Republicans’ top fundraiser go on to win the August election, all of Sullivan’s millions could be exhausted by the time he faces Begich, who has also posted strong fundraising numbers. Begich has $2.8 million in the bank compared to Sullivan’s $1.9 million.
The difference: Begich has been raising funds much longer than Sullivan.
Since Sullivan entered the race, he has outpaced Begich in individual contributions ($2.55 million for Sullivan against $1.32 million for Begich), but Begich has secured more funding from political action committees ($567,000 to $134,500).
“While our opponents have been in this race and campaigning for over a year, Dan has proven in a short period of time that he is the only candidate who possesses both the record and resources to win in August and November,” Anderson said.
The Begich campaign is counting on the senator’s track record.
“Mark has raised over $7 million to date for his re-election and the support from Alaskans continues to grow every day. Over 3,400 Alaskans have invested, including 500 new donors, because they know Mark is fighting for Alaska and getting results to create new jobs, protect our fisheries, and stand up for veterans,” said Susanne Fleek-Green, the manager of Alaskans for Begich. “In the face of millions of dollars in Outside attack ads, Mark has seen more Alaskans and more Alaskan money support his campaign than any other candidate in the race.”
Since October — when Sullivan entered the race — Begich has reported $1.48 million in campaign expenses compared to $684,000 reported by Sullivan. Including the first nine months of 2013 increases Begich’s expenses to nearly $2.7 million.
An April 14 poll of 603 likely Alaskan voters gave Sullivan a five-point lead over Begich, but that poll had a 4 percent margin of error.
The poll was conducted by Magellan Strategies, and the respondent pool was 32 percent Republican, 14 percent Democrat and 54 percent Independent.
The figures contained within this story are solely as-reported by the candidates and their campaign committees to the Federal Election Commission, and do not factor in funds spent by advocacy groups in support of — or in opposition to — any candidate.