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Latest ad salvo in Senate race includes attacks on Begich, Sullivan

Nathaniel Herz

Independent groups supporting Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and Republican challenger Dan Sullivan have launched yet another salvo of ads, with Sullivan’s backers charging that Begich allies are trying to meddle in the GOP primary election that’s less than two weeks away.

Put Alaska First, a super PAC that supports Begich without coordinating its efforts with his campaign, on Thursday debuted OutsiderDan.com, a new website aimed at Republican primary voters that includes 13 pages of attacks on Sullivan.

Meanwhile, American Crossroads, a Washington, D.C.-based group co-founded by Karl Rove, began a $130,000 radio campaign aimed at propping up Sullivan and taking its own swipes at Begich.

The Put Alaska First site is geared toward users of mobile devices, said Anchorage strategist Jim Lottsfeldt, who added that his group was putting about $30,000 behind its campaign.

Put Alaska First had earlier disclosed a $440,000 television campaign against Sullivan running through Sunday. A review of public filings with the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday showed the group contracting for at least $70,000 in additional time starting Monday and running through Aug. 18, and the Sullivan campaign said at least $400,000 had been placed; Lottsfeldt declined to comment on the new figures.

The group has received the vast majority of its money from a Washington, D.C., super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The new Put Alaska First site is an attempt “to try to be a little bit funny,” Lottsfeldt said.

The majority of the pages focus on Sullivan’s history in the state -- he was born in Ohio and lived Outside between 2002 and 2009 while he served in the U.S. Marine Corps and worked in Washington, D.C.

One of the pages asks site visitors to vote for “Outsider Dan Sullivan’s” campaign theme song. (Options include “Southern Man” by Neil Young and Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger.”)

A spokesman for Sullivan, Mike Anderson, said in an emailed statement that the site is the “latest attempt by Mark Begich's liberal allies to meddle in the Senate primary, while also distracting voters from Begich's failed record in Washington.”

“This site continues to show only one thing: Mark Begich and his friends fear Dan Sullivan the most, because they know he is the only conservative candidate that can beat Mark Begich in November,” Anderson said.

Asked about Republicans’ claims that Put Alaska First has been trying to select a victor in the party’s primary who would make an easier target for Begich in the general election, Lottsfeldt responded: “We’re not trying to pick his opponent.”

“All we’re doing is leveling the playing field and giving Begich some space to get his message across,” Lottsfeldt said, adding that Begich has been the subject of millions of dollars of attack ads from independent groups that support Republicans. “And if Sullivan has to start telling everyone in the next 10 days that he’s an Alaskan rather than screaming at Begich, that’s fine with me, too.”

Independent groups have disclosed only $1.2 million in ads opposing Begich, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, though his campaign has also been the subject of millions of dollars in attacks from groups that do not have to disclose their spending.

American Crossroads echoes the assertions from Sullivan’s camp in the group’s own ad, which is titled “Meddle ‘AK.’”

“The press is calling out Mark Begich and his liberal Washington allies for meddling in the Republican primary, launching dishonest attacks against Alaska’s clear conservative choice, Dan Sullivan,” a female narrator warns after an ominous piano chord. “Why? Liberals like Mark Begich can’t run on their failed records of Obamacare, higher taxes and trillions in debt.”

Art Hackney, an Anchorage political consultant and spokesman for American Crossroads, said that the group is considering purchasing additional ads, potentially on cable television.

Hackney said he would have preferred to use a more localized message in the ad, but added that Crossroads is “a national organization that has a lot of people involved doing the best it can to deliver a message that is acceptable to the lawyers that have to oversee it.”

Independent groups have already spent more than $7 million on the Alaska Senate race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Most of that spending -- some $4 million -- has come from Put Alaska First, and about $5.5 million of the total has been aimed at supporting Begich or attacking Sullivan. Some $2 million has gone toward boosting Sullivan and attacking Begich.

Those figures, however, do not include the millions in undisclosed spending attacking Begich.