Can firing up the partisan base backfire in Alaska?

By Stephanie Akin, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON - Some vulnerable Republican senators have seized on the battle over the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court to fire up their conservative bases.

But in Alaska, which leads the country by far with 58% of voters registered as nonpartisan or unaffiliated, Democrats are hoping to use Sen. Dan Sullivan's quick call for confirmation - and fellow Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's call to wait until after the election - as a cudgel in this year's election.

Sullivan, who according to CQ VoteWatch has voted with his party 96% of the time since his current term started in 2015, faces a serious challenge for reelection against orthopedic surgeon Al Gross, a registered nonpartisan who also won the Democratic nomination.

Murkowski, whose CQ VoteWatch party unity score was 85% for the same period, endorsed Sullivan on Friday, which could give him entree to the state's independents and moderate Republicans.

Sullivan's campaign says that by pledging his support for President Donald Trump's pick to replace Ginsburg, he is standing up for Alaskans, whose interests in federal land and water management and other federal issues would be better represented by a conservative justice on the court.

But Democrats say the issue will remind voters of Sullivan's record as a party-line Republican and allow Gross to sharpen his position as the real independent in the race.


"It just highlights that Dan Sullivan doesn't have the independent spirit that in Alaska a senator should," said state Democratic Party Executive Director Lindsay Kavanaugh.

The Alaskan Senate race - along with another competitive race for the state's sole House seat that has been held for decades by Republican Don Young - only recently started attracting national attention as contests that could help decide the majority in both chambers in 2020.

Trump won the state by 15 points in 2016, but Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales shifted the presidential and Senate races in July toward the Democrats, Solid to Likely Republican. And Trump himself may not have a complete lock on the state, with public and private polling showing him leading Joe Biden by just single digits.

The battle over the Supreme Court seat is a reminder of what sets both races apart from those in states Alaskans refer to as "The lower 48."


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