The Democrats are running scared.
You can hear it in their message, you can see it in their odd social media postings, and you can feel it in the air.
To be fair to the Democrats, they never saw it coming. They weren't expected to have to fight back this early. They were supposed to be able to coast smoothly through an uncontested primary while nearly every Republican in the state fought for the right to represent their party.
In these sorts of elections, the candidate in the contested primary generally comes out damaged by attacks from their counterparts while the uncontested candidate just sits back and watches.
That didn't happen.
Instead, only two serious candidates -- Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell signed up for the gig. Joe Miller also threw his hat in the ring, but seriously -- does anyone consider Miller anything more than a fringe candidate anymore? (The Conservative Patriot's Group crowd can feel free to send me hate mail, especially if he breaks the 15 percent barrier in the primary election.)
Why more Republicans didn't join this race is really unclear. Some of the names that had been bandied about decided not to run for anything, and some ran for a few other offices that are open, with this being a gubernatorial election year as well as a "redistricting redo."
Democrats also probably expected a little more help from negative opinions of Mayor Dan Sullivan who shares a name with senatorial candidate Dan Sullivan. However, Mayor Sullivan's only notable opponent, Sen. Lesil McGuire, pulled out of the race just recently. The mayor experienced some negative press after a couple of notable gaffes earlier this year. However, with him now being the presumptive Republican nominee for Lt. Governor, the only Dan Sullivan anyone seems to be talking about is the one running for Senate.
And boy, are they talking about him.
Dan Sullivan's campaign has employed a brilliant strategy, that many often say they would like to try to pull off, but rarely do -- He has ignored his primary challengers and run only against the incumbent. If all you had to judge this race on was Dan Sullivan's campaign materials, you would be pretty confident that Sullivan and Begich are both in uncontested primaries and gearing up for the general election.
This strategy has also helped to keep him fairly unscathed from "friendly" attacks. The Miller and Treadwell campaigns have had trouble gaining traction and -- more importantly -- money. Because of all this, the Sullivan strategy has worked out nearly to perfection, so far, so well, in fact, that the Democrats are joining in.
The social media postings on the official Alaska Democrats pages have the stench of desperation. The day after the Alaska Aces won the Kelly Cup, the Alaska Democrats' Facebook page criticized Sullivan for failing to congratulate the Alaska Aces on his Facebook page. They took this opportunity because -- coincidently -- the team defeated by the Alaska Aces was the Cincinnati Cyclones - which, like Sullivan, hails from Ohio.
During the primary season, the Democrats have been trying to paint Sullivan as an outsider and giving him names like "Ohio Dan" and basing opinions on insignificant things such as which fishing license he applied for.
Nobody informed me that the standard for who should represent us in elected office shifted to which fishing licenses they have held.
Dan Sullivan has not always been an Alaskan, but honestly, few of us have. Many of those lobbing attacks at Mr. Sullivan have come from other places, and few to none of them have the experience that his military career or government services have given him. Dan Sullivan served his country honorably, and then he came home to serve Alaska honorably as the Attorney General and the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.
The Democrats definitely have a reason to be running scared. Polling numbers that pit Sullivan against Begich in the primary have them too close to call. The Huffington Post does a composite of all the polls it tracks in the race. That composite score is currently a dead heat -- Sullivan with 44.7 percent and Begich with 44.5 percent. A Rasmussen Poll taken in March has the race tied at 44% as well.
Begich is a crowdpleaser and a popular guy with a slick mouthpiece to sweet-talk voters. Instead of utilizing that, the Democrats are on the attack -- which is usually where people go when they are trying to fight from behind.
Regardless of what Alaska Democrats think the requirements to be considered an Alaskan should be, Dan Sullivan has shown that he will be a force to be reckoned with come November. The Democrats should be more concerned with telling Alaskans why Begich is the best candidate for the job rather than debating the different places that Dan Sullivan has lived and which box he checked on his fishing license.
Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics.
By MIKE DINGMAN