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Paul Jenkins: Treadwell looking smarter by the day in Alaska GOP Senate primary

Paul Jenkins

As we sink into election madness and Democrats work themselves into a tizzy trying to destroy GOP contender Dan Sullivan, it becomes ever more clear Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell -- if not simply lucky -- may be the smartest guy in the race for the Senate seat stolen by Mark Begich in 2008.

A Dittman poll of 500 likely GOP primary voters in 50 communities during the last days of May -- and it was not paid for by either Treadwell or Sullivan -- showed the two running neck-and-neck, or well within the poll's margin of error of 4.4 percent. Respondents were asked: "In the Republican Primary election for U.S. Senate, who would you most likely vote for if the election were held today...?"

Sullivan netted 37 percent, Treadwell 35 percent, and Joe Miller, who has a Bronze Star, 12 percent -- and 15 percent were undecided.

Even more intriguing were the poll's favorable-unfavorable responses. Respondents were asked: "Please tell me whether you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of...?"

Treadwell garnered 74 percent favorable, 8 percent unfavorable, 12 percent unsure; Sullivan, 62 percent favorable, 18 percent unfavorable, 17 percent unsure; and, Miller, 35 percent favorable, 55 percent unfavorable, 7 percent unsure.

Begich and his bankers believe Dan Sullivan will win the GOP primary in August. They are desperate to cripple him long before November's general election. They have gone after him hammer-and-tong with ads suggesting he is an untrustworthy carpetbagger, a pal of the Koch brothers, a guy who would take away our hunting rights. None of that is true, but it is excellent theater.

Their ultimate and well-founded fear is Sullivan's fat war chest, which eclipses the Gross National Product of many small countries, and the very, very deep pockets of his Lower 48 supporters. They include, among others, the Club for Growth, Karl Rove's American Crossroads, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. They could buy those very same small countries. There also is another super PAC or two, but who's counting?

Alaska is conservative. In a statewide race, with a Republican facing off with a Democrat, the Republican should win every time -- unless something shakes the cosmos, something like, say, the Democrat being blessed by a crooked Justice Department probe of his opponent, who is exonerated only after the election.

Given that conventional wisdom, and knowing Justice Department lightning is unlikely to strike twice in the same place, it is understandable that Begich et al., are scared silly by a guy with Sullivan's résumé -- and the truckloads of dough they are certain could ensure his victory in November. But are they off-track? Is this a case where money may not be the biggest factor? Could the smart guys finally be wrong?

Alaska is pivotal in the fight for control of the Senate, a fight to return this nation to some semblance of sanity. While Begich and Sullivan are turning this year's Senate election into the most expensive in state history, Treadwell, a thoughtful, unassuming guy is on the Republican front-runner's coattails -- by doing virtually nothing.

Oh, he is doing the traditional hand-shake thingy, introducing himself to perfect strangers and the like. He speaks to this group and that. There are the campaign signs -- one in Eagle River mysteriously keeps tipping over -- and the public appearances, but there is not much in the way of television or radio ads, not much money, not much spending, not much pizzazz.

While Sullivan is shredded at every turn by increasingly vicious ads on every media outlet imaginable, Treadwell gets a free ride. You have to wonder whether the Begich campaign even knows the lieutenant governor is in the race, whether it understands he has spent nothing and polls almost as strong as the guy the left fears most.

Treadwell, after all, already has won a statewide GOP primary and a statewide office and looks to be even a stronger contender when you consider his favorable response percentage in that last Dittman poll. Miller? He could be a spoiler for either of them.

If nothing changes -- if the Begich machine keeps its laser focus on Sullivan -- Treadwell will reach the primary election unscathed. If he were to win, if all that Sullivan money switched over to his campaign -- and it would -- Begich would be in serious trouble.

Winning would be problematic for him. Problematic with a capital P.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.



By PAUL JENKINS