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Begich campaign stands by ad featuring 'lifelong Republican' voter

Nathaniel Herz
In a campaign ad for U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, Skip Nelson says he is a "lifelong Republican," but he has been registered as undeclared since 2000, according to state records. YouTube screengrab via MarkBegich

A man who says he’s a lifelong Republican in Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich’s most recent campaign commercial is currently registered as undeclared with no party affiliation, according to state voting records.

The man in the ad, Skip Nelson, also says he voted for Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. But state records show Nelson did not vote in 2010, when Murkowski was most recently re-elected.

Asked if he voted in 2010, Nelson said: “Frankly, I don’t remember.”

“I remember going to several fundraisers for her. I thought I did vote for her,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “But I know I supported Lisa.”

Nelson did participate in the 2004 election, when Murkowski was first elected after being appointed to her Senate post in 2002 by her father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski. Nelson said he probably voted for Murkowski then.

He has been undeclared since 2000, according to state records. Nelson said he has been registered as a Republican in the past in Georgia and Virginia.

Nelson said he comes from a Republican family and that he “grew up playing with little stuffed elephants.” He said he never claimed to be registered with the party in the ad, and added it’s possible to be a Republican without being a registered Republican.

“Alaska is big enough and independent enough to support bipartisan politics, and I don’t care who is on the ticket,” Nelson said. “The reason I’m in favor of Begich is I think he’s the best ball to play right now, and we should have the right to play whoever we want.”

In the ad, which was released Tuesday, Nelson, 67, is pictured in front of a plane and describes the challenges of the aviation business in Alaska. He is the CEO of an aviation and air traffic company based at Merrill Field airport in Anchorage.

He tells viewers: “I’ve been a lifelong Republican.”

“I voted for Ted Stevens,” he says, referring to the long-serving Alaska Republican senator defeated by Begich in 2008. “I voted for Lisa Murkowski. Now I’m voting for Mark Begich.”

Nelson also says in the ad that Begich and Murkowski vote together as much as 80 percent of the time.

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for Begich’s re-election campaign said: “We stand behind the ad, that includes the fact senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich vote together as much as 80 percent of the time, their work to promote Alaska’s aviation industry and Skip sharing his personal story.”

Murkowski has pushed back against an earlier version of Begich’s ad that has aired on radio.

The 80 percent figure represents all the Senate roll call votes in which both Begich and Murkowski participated in 2014, through early July, Begich’s campaign has said. Roll call votes are those in which each senator’s position is recorded.

Murkowski has said “you can make the numbers work to your advantage,” and her allies cite a different analysis going back to 2009 that shows the two Alaska senators’ votes lining up only 60 percent of the time.

An analysis by the nonpartisan website PolitiFact ruled Nelson’s 80 percent claim to be “mostly true.”