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Alaska's two Dan Sullivans face name-recognition challenge in quest for office

Alex DeMarban
Daniel Scott Sullivan, Left, and Daniel Albert Sullivan, Right, are both running campaigns for statewide public office at the same time, and people in Alaska and out are already getting them mixed up. Aaron Jansen illustration

Alaska politician Dan Sullivan won't have to worry about name recognition, but he might face a different problem.

Which Dan Sullivan, you ask? That's the potential trouble for a pair of politicians with the same name. In a bizarre coincidence for a state with just 730,000 souls, voters in the Republican primary next August will get the apparently unprecedented chance to bubble in the same name twice.

There's the blue-eyed, sandy-haired Dan Sullivan for U.S. senator -- the one who kicked off his campaign on Tuesday wearing combat boots and blue jeans. And there's the brown-eyed, dark-haired Dan Sullivan -- the Anchorage mayor gunning for lieutenant governor.

Dan Nation

A quick poll of regular-Joe Dan Sullivans around Alaska -- statewide directory assistance lists only three -- suggests that the mayor comes with more baggage. And why wouldn't he? His fellow political Dan Sullivan has never held elected office, though he's been attorney general, a state commissioner, and a U.S. assistant secretary of state for economic, energy, and business affairs.

"It's been a burden," said the Dan Sullivan who teaches fifth-graders in Petersburg in Southeast. "I don't have the same political leanings, particularly with the mayor. I'm like, 'Oh jeez.'"

Alaska's political Dan Sullivans are apparently easily confused. The Dan Sullivan from Sterling, the one who's a construction-industry contractor, said he's thought about how to capitalize off that fact.

"But I don't see any lucrative engagements in my future," he said. "I don't look like either one, so I can't be a stand-in or a stuntman."

He has taken a couple of outraged, late-night calls from people of "questionable sobriety." It was two years ago, during the time the mayor was battling homeless man John Martin III, trying to keep him and other homeless people from sitting in protest before City Hall.

"They started telling me what I'm doing wrong," said the Sterling Dan. "I don't think it was a joke. They were just misinformed of who they were talking to."

The Dan Sullivan who lives in Nome could not be reached for comment.

At the Dan Sullivan for Senate campaign announcement on Tuesday, Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said he'd just heard callers into the Rick Rydell show transposing the names, moments after Rydell finished talking about that potential problem. And a legislative document once confused the two men as well, using the wrong middle initials, Stoltze said.

"He should distinguish himself as Col. Dan," said Stoltze, referring to the sandy-haired Dan Sullivan's service as a U.S. Marine since 1993.

And the Mayor's Office in Anchorage sometimes takes calls from people who have mixed up the Dans, said the mayor. In recent weeks, professional firms from Outside have called, hoping they might manage Dan Sullivan's campaign for Senate.

"Our office has gently steered them toward the other Dan Sullivan," said the mayor.

'Not that Dan'

During the campaign kickoff at the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage on Tuesday, Daniel Scott Sullivan virtually shouted into the microphone to officially launch his effort to remove Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat.

Sullivan promised that in Washington, D.C., he'd fight federal overreach and protect individual rights, veterans and gun ownership. He said he'd continue promoting the energy renaissance that's spreading from Cook Inlet to the North Slope, and that way, he'd create jobs and economic opportunity for Alaskans and the nation.

Sullivan referred to Begich just once, dubbing himself "the fighter" who would take the Democrat down.

"Washington is broken," Sullivan said. "Not only does it ignore opportunities, it undermines them, shutting down responsible resource development in Alaska, curtailing individual rights, and mortgaging our children's future with trillion-dollar deficits."

The event was short on specifics and long on cuddly moments. Sullivan spent much of his 10-minute stage appearance touting his three daughters, their friends in the audience, and the well-known Athabascan family he'd married into, the Fates from Interior Alaska.

Sullivan declared from the podium that he can't wait to take "softball questions" from his friends in the media. Then he promptly dodged reporters as he waded through a crowd of more than 60 supporters, brushing aside serious questions.

"I got plenty of time and you know that I engage with the press all the time. We're focused on the vision that we're laying out today," he said, waving a folded copy of his speech as he left the room.

Afterward, talk bubbled about the potential name confusion. State lobbyist Ashley Reed said the former natural resources commissioner should run a campaign advertisement with these words emblazoned across his chest: "I'm not that Dan."

For the record, neither of the Dans sees the name issue as a liability.

"Sullivan's a great friend of mine, and he's a great Republican," said Afghan Dan, as the Marine is sometimes called.

Maybe an advantage?

The mayor wasn't at the campaign kickoff. Political observers say he took a hit earlier this year after winning assembly approval for a controversial measure limiting the power of labor unions. Sullivan wasn't on the ballot in the election that followed, but voters nearly ousted a key supporter of the measure, assembly incumbent Ernie Hall, in favor of 20-something Nick Moe, who has never held office.

Daniel Albert Sullivan doesn't see his labor initiative as a negative. "The vast majority of comments I get are from people grateful that someone stood up for taxpayers in our community." They're happy he took steps to prevent Anchorage from going the way of bankrupt Stockton, Calif., with its crippling pension debt and salary obligations, he said.

"It (the name factor) could be to his advantage," the mayor said. In other words, maybe the Dan for Senate campaign will get some free votes courtesy of Mayor Dan.

One key question, he wondered. How will the Division of Elections distinguish the two names on the primary ballot next August. Should they include titles? Middle initials? Or perhaps include photos of the two Dans?

"Just as long as they get my good side," said the mayor.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch

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