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Sullivan on Sullivan: Alaska senator backs Murkowski in U.S. Senate race

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Dan S. Sullivan is backing fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski in her campaign, despite any affections for his name-twin candidate entering the race.

Former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan filed to run against Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2016 GOP primary on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska Dispatch News)

Sullivan hasn't previously spoken publicly on the issue, as he was traveling with a congressional delegation in the Asia-Pacific region when Alaska's filing deadline arrived on June 1. With just 10 minutes to go that day, former Anchorage Mayor Dan A. Sullivan signed up to challenge Murkowski in the August Republican primary.

"Look, I have a good relationship with Mayor Dan. He's a friend. I have a lot of respect for him," Sen. Sullivan said. "And while I would agree that he has one of the best names in Alaska politics, as I said earlier this year, I'm supporting Senator Murkowski in her election bid."

Sullivan cited Murkowski's role as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee as "critically important not only to Alaska but to the country."

"We need to keep her there, and we need to keep the Senate in the majority," Sullivan said.

The GOP currently holds the majority in the U.S. Senate and House, which means party leaders control the action on the floor and the work and focus of committees. In the Senate, 51 seats are necessary for a majority, and the Republicans hold 54 seats.

But 24 Republican incumbents are facing election in 2016, compared to 10 Democrat-held seats, making it more difficult for Republicans to retain control of the upper chamber.

The entrance of "Mayor Dan" into the race caught the attention of the national press, bemused by the opportunity to have two senators from the same state with the same name. The last time two members of Congress from the same state shared a name was in the 1880s, according to Politico. James F. Wilson and James I. Wilson served in the House and Senate respectively for Ohio. The representative went by "Tama Jim" to distinguish himself from his same-name colleague.

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