Tea Party Fight Brewing in Alaska Senate Race

PHOTO: Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell swears in members of the House of Representatives on the first day of the Alaska State Legislature in Juneau, Alaska, Jan. 15, 2013.Chris Miller/AP Photo
Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell swears in members of the House of Representatives on the first day of the Alaska State Legislature in Juneau, Alaska, Jan. 15, 2013.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Alaska Tuesday, ensuring there will be a Republican primary in the race to run against Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat.

Treadwell officially got into the race Tuesday after announcing an exploratory committee in November. He will face off against Joe Miller, the GOP U.S. Senate primary victor in 2010, who made his intentions clear when he filed paperwork to run last month.

Miller lost in the 2010 general election when he faced off against Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who ran as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to Miller.

Treadwell, referring to Begich, told ABC News that it's time to "replace our senator," saying his campaign would focus on opening up of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil and gas drilling -- a move Begich has supported, as well. Treadwell touted "conservative principals," including limiting spending and "fighting for Alaska."

But, he knows he first needs to face off against Miller, an attorney who now runs a conservative website that also features conspiracy theories.

"Alaska needs a credible candidate that can win 51 percent of the vote," Treadwell said. "I don't want to upset any of his supporters by saying he can't win, but a race this time needs to attract voters to replace the sitting senator, replace the incumbent. I believe we can get a credible Republican candidate. I have a record that I will lay up against Joe [Miller] any day."

Treadwell mentioned the issues he's worked on as lieutenant governor, such as oil and gas, timber and ANWR.

He added that they were "things Joe [Miller], God bless him, has not worked on in his career as extensively as I have."

Treadwell said he has Miller supporters from 2010 who have been volunteering for his exploratory committee.

"I'm convinced we can appeal to conservatives who want a change with the status quo," Treadwell said.

Miller was able to win in 2010 with Tea Party support, something he would need help with again this time around, even in red Alaska. But Treadwell made it clear he, too, would go after that support.

"Government's first job is to protect liberty," Treadwell said, also noting his support for "fiscal sanity."

"I'll go against Joe any day he wants to about that," Treadwell said.

"I think Alaskans want someone with a conservative philosophy working with people that makes things work," Treadwell said. "I'm not a person who burns bridges. ... I go into this with a sense of discipline."

Treadwell added another veiled dig at Miller, saying his candidacy is about "putting conservative views in action and you can't do that by scaring people, you need to do it by doing things."

Miller's campaign said he was unavailable for an interview, instead providing a written statement.

"I welcome Mr. Treadwell to the race," said Miller. "Competition is a good thing. I look forward to a vigorous debate on the issues facing the country, and the great state of Alaska."

He also took a swipe at Treadwell and Begich over Begich's comment to an interviewer that he was closer to a "Rockefeller Republican" than a "Pelosi Democrat."

"Mr. Treadwell will appreciate some company," said Miller. "Given Alaska's demographics, I'm sure it probably gets lonely over at the country club."

Begich is a top target for Republicans in the 2014 cycle and he told ABC News in an interview, "It's going to be a crowded primary over there," referring to the Republican primary. He said he's focused on "delivering the issues that are important to Alaska ... while they are having their battle over there in the primary."

"Whoever comes out of [the GOP primary], it will be a tough race," Begich said. "I'll be making sure Alaskans know what I have done and what I hope to do, and that's going to be the focus. I know over there, in the primary, there is already sniping back and forth, and I'm sure that's going to be a rough-and-tumble race."

Begich, the former mayor of Anchorage, stressed how he has worked with his Republican counterparts in the Alaska delegation, which includes Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, and his independent voting record. He's voted against legislation championed by the president, including being one of four Democrats in April who voted against legislation to expand background checks on gun sales.

"Sometimes, being the only Democrat, if it's good for Alaska, it doesn't matter who's sponsoring [the legislation]. I look for issues that matter to Alaska," Begich said.

He added that, unlike Treadwell or Miller, he was born and raised in the 49th state.

"It's been for all my political career something I've strived for: where the common ground is," Begich said. "I think it's being born and raised in Alaska. That's how you grow up. We don't look what party you are from ... we look at what you can do for Alaska."

In 2008, Begich beat Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, in a tight race with a margin of just more than 3,700 votes. Stevens, who had a 40-year Senate career, was convicted on corruption charges a week before the election. He was killed in a plane crash in 2010.

As with that race, Begich said this one will be a "hard" fight.

Begich might know that it will be difficult no matter what because he's a Democrat running in a red state, but Alaska political observers say Miller would be a much easier opponent than Treadwell.

Ivan Moore, a pollster in the state, noted that post-election polls showed that well more than half of Alaska voters viewed Miller negatively after he lost to Murkowski.

"What that tells you is he is categorically unelectable in a general [election]," Moore said. "Mark Begich is sitting there rubbing his hands at the prospect of running against Joe Miller in the general. He could close his eyes and do it."

In Alaska, Republicans, independents and undeclared voters can vote in the GOP primary.

"There's two uncertainties," Moore said of the GOP primary. "What are Joe Miller's negatives today? Probably not as bad as when he got beat by Lisa [Murkowski] and ... I think the only thing I can assume is Mead Treadwell has done his exploratory committee work with due diligence and found Joe Miller is perfectly beatable in a Republican primary. I think it's going to be tough for [Miller]."

Moore added that the "death knell will come when Republican primary voters become convinced that while they like Joe Miller, he can't win in a general and that will undoubtedly be used by opponents of his."

"Don't vote for him, he's going to lose," is something Moore believes Treadwell and any other opponents will use against Miller.

As for the general election, Moore said, "Mark [Begich] is a good campaigner. He's done this many times before and he'll never be a pushover, but also he's always going to be vulnerable.

"It's a Democrat running in Alaska, so Mead [Treadwell] and Mark [Begich] in a general will be a very well-contested race, and I think when it comes down to it will be close," Moore said.

Another Republican who is considering getting into the race, but has not announced, is Alaska's department of natural resources commissioner Dan Sullivan. Sullivan, Treadwell and Miller have all met with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

"Lt. Gov. Treadwell is a strong candidate who has already won statewide, is very well respected and liked in Alaska," Brad Dayspring, communications director for the NRSC said in a statement. "It's early in the cycle, but no matter the candidate, the path to the majority runs through Alaska and we are going to win there."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also weighed in, saying in a statement, "It's not even 2014 and Washington Republicans have already made a complete mess out of the Alaska Senate race."

"First the establishment tried and failed to push Tea Party hero Joe Miller out of the race," deputy executive director Matt Canter said in a statement. "Then they encouraged Mead Treadwell to run, not knowing that Alaska Republicans have always said Treadwell is lackluster and underwhelming. Now they're courting Dan Sullivan, a Washington, D.C., Republican with limited ties to Alaska. It looks like Washington Republicans have bought themselves a primary with two D.C.-friendly candidates running against Tea Party hero Joe Miller. What a mess."

The NRSC strongly disagrees with the DSCC saying they did not move to push Miller out of the race nor are they courting Sullivan and these allegations are false.

Treadwell, Miller, and possibly Sullivan will face off in August,2014 and whoever wins the primary will be up against Begich in November.

This story has been updated since it was posted to reflect the NRSC's opposition to the DSCC's claims.