Editor's note: The following is an excerpt. Read the full version online at AlaskaDispatch.com.
A common assumption is that Sen. Mark Begich will be running for re-election this year against Dan Sullivan, former attorney general and commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, because this August, in the Republican primary election, Dan's Outside money and establishment connections will overwhelm Mead Treadwell, who to keep his campaign on life support recently had to loan it $175,000 of his own money.
Sullivan has been raising money from major Republican donors with multimillion-dollar success that suggests that he is indeed the handpicked candidate of the East of the Potomac Republican establishment.
He's been endorsed by the Club for Growth. In March, American Crossroads, Karl Rove's super-PAC, released a television commercial in which, in her usual lady-like tone, Condoleezza Rice vouched that she knows for absolute sure how much Dan Sullivan "loves and cares for the state of Alaska." And this month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce broadcast a television commercial that, after it trashes Mark Begich for being a friend of Barack Obama, endorses Sullivan.
But even if Sullivan beats Treadwell, that doesn't mean Dan wins the Republican primary election. Because there is a third candidate who, with a lot less money and a completely different set of national connections, has every chance of winning: Joe Miller.
If after Miller won the 2010 Republican primary election he had flown to Maui and sat quietly on the beach for the next two months, he probably would have been elected to the Senate. Instead, he stayed in Alaska and launched a general election campaign that by November had convinced a majority of Alaska voters that he might not only be mentally unhinged, but maybe even downright dangerous.
After Lisa Murkowski lost that primary election, the Alaska Democratic Party's failure to field a real candidate to run against Joe provided Lisa an opening to run in the general election as a write-in candidate. And in November, Joe's odd, occasionally disturbing behavior allowed Lisa to win.
But here's the thing. After all the craziness that swirled around the Joe Miller for Senate campaign during the run-up to the 2010 general election, when he lost to Lisa, Joe got 90,839 votes.
Being generous, let's say 30,000 of those votes were cast by Republicans who, because they always vote the Republican ticket, voted for Joe only because he was the Republican candidate. But that leaves 60,839 votes that were cast by voters who by then knew all about Joe Miller and liked what they saw.
Here's why that's bad news for Dan Sullivan:
In the 2008 and 2010 Republican primary elections 105,326 and 109,750 votes were cast. Because there will be a referendum on the primary election ballot whose passage will repeal a bill the Alaska Legislature passed last year that dramatically lowered taxes on the oil industry, the industry will be bankrolling a get-out-the-vote campaign to mobilize voters who are sympathetic to the industry to turn out and vote against the referendum. Since a majority of those voters will be Republicans and center-right Independents, let's again be generous and say that as many as 125,000 votes will be cast in the 2014 Republican primary election.
If that's how many are cast, if Joe Miller can turn out the 60,839 voters who voted for him in the 2010 general election to vote for him again, he can win a three-way race with Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell.
If Mead does withdraw, Dan's chances of winning go way up. But if Mead hangs in, can Miller turn out the votes he needs in August?
To find out, I recently attended the kick-off event for the Joe Miller for Senate campaign that was held in the bar at a resort motel on Lake Wasilla, the lake down the road from the lake on whose shore Sarah Palin lives whenever she's back in town from Scottsdale, Arizona. After prayers and testimonials and then a pep talk from Joe, before the crowd broke up the mistress-of-ceremonies, a pixie perky blond I recognized from Joe's last campaign, had everyone in the room take out their smart phones and make sure they were linked into the campaign's website and Joe's Twitter account, which meant that Joe has figured out that his campaign needs to replicate the social media network to identify and turn out supporters that the Obama campaign created prior to the 2012 presidential election.
But while social media will be important, the key to Joe Miller winning the Republican primary election is Sarah Palin.
Donald Craig Mitchell is an attorney in Anchorage. Read the full version of this commentary online at AlaskaDispatch.com.
By DONALD CRAIG MITCHELL