Rove Influence Set to Lose Alaska Senate Seat

The Tea party-aligned candidate in Alaska’s Republican Senate primary Joe Miller invoked the “R” word, as in Karl Rove, in attacking his two opponents over their stance on illegal immigration. Given the way the immigration issue is now playing nationally, any perceived weakness among the two could cost them an edge in the general election, were one of them to gain the nomination, instead of Miller.

Both former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan and Lt. Gov Mead Treadwell refused to sign a pledge offered by  to oppose all efforts at “amnesty” for people here illegally if elected to the U.S. Senate, with Treadwell chastising Miller for sending out a mailer on immigration featuring menacing Hispanic gang members. Miller, in turn, noted that several of Sullivan’s backers, like GOP strategist Karl Rove, favor allowing many of the 11 million immigrants in the country to eventually become citizens.

Republican Senate candidates from Maine to Arkansas are now attacking Democrats for their positions on immigration reform. If either Treadwell, or Sullivan emerge victorious in the primary but are seen as more aligned with the establishment GOP, often linked to Rove, on immigration, it could prove difficult for them to then pivot and attack Begich on immigration in the general.

The candidates also clashed over the economic stimulus, gun rights and campaign spending. Sullivan has raised almost four times as much money as Treadwell and has a super PAC backing him, enabling him to bombard the airwaves with advertising. 

Begich and his super PAC have also jumped into the fight, attacking Sullivan over his roughly seven-year absence from the state, when he was in Washington, D.C., working in the administration of President George W. Bush and serving with the military overseas. 

Republicans need to net six Senate seats to win control of the chamber in November. Sullivan stressed the need for the GOP to regain power in Washington, focusing, as befits his presumed front-runner status, on Begich rather than his primary foes.

Additionally, to some degree both Treadwell and Sullivan seem to be suggesting that Washington is where the real action is. It’s unclear how such a strategy will play in Alaska no matter how much money the more establishment-aligned candidates have to spend. 

Base voters are going to be critical for a GOP intent on taking over the Senate.  If Miller fails to win the primary, a third party run by him with a focus on illegal immigration would almost certainly force the Republican to shift Right on immigration and may still cost the GOP a Senate seat no matter what.

Miller was also the only one of the three candidates who refused to commit to endorsing the winner of the Republican primary. That will continue to stoke speculation that he could run on a third-party ticket should he lose the primary, which could effectively hand the November election to incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Begich.

Miller, meanwhile, had a tone of bemusement, saying that Treadwell had adopted so many of his positions from his failed 2010 bid that he wondered if the lieutenant governor would show up with a beard, a reference to Miller’s facial hair. He noted he was the only non-millionaire in the race and boasted of building his own house in the Alaskan interior and feeding his family with the fish he caught in the state’s rich waters. 

On immigration, all three candidates bashed the Obama administration for failing to secure the border. Treadwell said he supported letting some people here illegally stay once they pay a fine and wait for permits behind those who immigrated legally. Sullivan called for more border security.