Polls tracking the Republican primary in Alaska's closely watched U.S. Senate contest present very different views of voter mood, with local polling firms showing a tight race between front-runners Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell and Lower 48 polling companies giving Sullivan a comfy lead.
The Treadwell team points to the close numbers as evidence the race has narrowed since May, when two Outside polling firms showed Sullivan with a double-digit lead. The "Treadwell surge" will cause Sullivan to step up his personal attacks on Treadwell, said Tom Intorcio, Treadwell's spokesman.
"We expect that Mead Treadwell is next on the hit list," Intorcio said.
Sullivan's campaign said it's the one gaining ground.
The differing results raise questions about whether Alaska firms, with their in-state experience, are better at measuring the state's notoriously hard-to-grasp voters. Or are the Outside firms getting it right? Only time will tell.
"There's a lot of ways for data to be skewed," said Mark Hellenthal of Hellenthal and Associates in Anchorage, such as the way questions are presented or results are interpreted.
It's very possible the primary race has always been tight, said Hellenthal, a view reinforced by officials with two other Anchorage polling firms, Dittman Research and Ivan Moore Research.
That would suggest the Outside polls, for whatever reason, may have been wrong.
Hellenthal's results gave Sullivan the widest lead at 4.3 points (Sullivan 34.8 percent, Treadwell 30.5). Dittman Research gave Sullivan the smallest lead at 2 points (Sullivan 37 percent, Treadwell 35).
"Where's the tightening?" said Ivan Moore before answering his own question. "There is no tightening."
His poll showed Sullivan with a 3-point lead (Sullivan 35 percent, Treadwell 32 percent).
The race's other big name, Fairbanks ultra-conservative Joe Miller, finished a distant third each time, earning between 12 percent and 20 percent.
Dittman has contracted with Treadwell to provide consulting. But none of the polls was paid for by the Senate candidates. Hellenthal and Moore covered their own costs. Mayor Dan Sullivan, the candidate for lieutenant governor, paid for the Dittman poll to better understand possible name confusion involving his namesake who is running for U.S. Senate.
The margin of error in each of the three polls by Alaska firms is larger than the spread between the two candidates. The Dittman poll was conducted in late May. The other two were conducted in June.
The Outside polls also had Miller in a distant third, but showed much wider leads for Sullivan:
Mike Anderson, spokesman for Sullivan, said Moore Information and its vice president for public affairs, Hans Kaiser, have experience working in Alaska: They've polled for Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young and former Sen. Ted Stevens.
Sullivan is the one who has gained support, Anderson said in an emailed statement.
"Since Dan entered the race in October, voters have been switching over from Treadwell to Sullivan in droves because they recognize Dan is the leader Alaska needs to fight federal overreach and to ensure Alaskans decide how we manage our state, not Washington, D.C.," said Anderson.
"Mead talks a lot, but Dan takes action and the voters are recognizing the difference," he said.
Sullivan, the subject of thousands of ads as national groups fight over the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Mark Begich, has blanketed TV for months. He has also heavily out-fundraised his Republican opponents, creating a large spending advantage.
But Treadwell has recently begun to establish his own TV presence, Hellenthal said. Because of that, the race may have narrowed even more than Hellenthal's June 17-28 polling suggests.
"I assume it's a dead heat by now," said Hellenthal.