'It's a money bomb': Parties rush to surprising Alaska Senate race

In their search for a Senate majority, the Democrats are pushing the battlefield map as far north as possible.
New money from outside groups and small dollar donors is flowing into Alaska, where independent Al Gross, backed by state and national Democrats, aims to get first-time GOP Senator Dan Sullivan off the field. The race has been on the edge of the Senate map for months, potentially competitive, but receives far less attention than some more expensive and geographically tighter competitions.
But now a fresh influx of external spending and base dollars into the gross campaign has given the Democrats a huge financial advantage in the state over the past four weeks. A new Super-PAC formed on Monday brings $ 4 million into the race, the largest external investment to date and a signal of optimism among party leaders. And Gross announced that his campaign has raised $ 9 million in the past three months, a staggering amount that would have been enough to fund an entire campaign.
"It's a money bomb," said Jim Lottsfeldt, a state veteran.
Alaska offers Democrats yet another avenue to cobble together the three seats they will need to take control of the Senate if Joe Biden wins the presidential race. And along with races in Kansas, Montana, and South Carolina, the Alaskan Foray marks a major offensive into traditionally red states that are more competitive due to the falling polls of President Donald Trump.
The new super PAC, North Star, was formed earlier this week according to the Federal Election Commission's filing and went on air Thursday with its first ad that hits Sullivan in the healthcare sector. The amount made it the biggest televised funder of the race, although other outside groups have been there before.
“I think people were skeptical at first. Because of that, we were alone in investing in Alaska early on, ”said Shaughnessy Naughton, president of 314 Action, a Democratic group that sponsored candidates with a scientific background and spent $ 2 million to help Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, to promote. "But I think people see it as a real race and that's why we see other groups starting to step in."
North Star has obvious ties to National Democrats. Media buyer Waterfront Strategies is used by a handful of large democratic groups, including the Senate majority PAC, led by allies of minority leader Chuck Schumer. The Super-PAC maintains its account with the Amalgamated Bank under its FEC filing, a Washington-based bank used by a variety of democratic organizations.
A Senate majority spokesman, PAC, declined to comment on the group. Emails sent to a Gmail address listed on North Star's FEC file did not receive a response. Also listed on the file is a website that has no contact information or group details, just a picture of the mountains and a sentence, "Alaska needs a senator who knows Alaska and puts Alaskans first."
The television commercial features a woman diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and criticizes Sullivan for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have removed legal protection for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Republicans responded in kind. The Senate Leadership Fund, run by allies of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is adding another $ 3.7 million to the state by election day, the group's spokesman Jack Pandol told POLITICO on Thursday. That brings their total investment in Alaska to $ 5.3 million.
"Make no mistake - National Democrats and external liberal super-PACs are flooding Alaska with millions of dollars to buy that Senate seat, turn Alaska blue and regain control of the US Senate," said Matt Shuckerow, Sullivan's campaign manager. “It has nothing to do with us and everything you can do about it. Those millions of dollars in dark money flowing through obscure front groups are all part of Chuck Schumer's campaigning machine. "
Yet this contributes to massive inequality. Sullivan's campaign has not yet released its third quarter fundraising totals, but it was expected to be overtaken and spent by an astonishing five-to-one lead.
Scott Kendall, a state veteran who worked for GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski and Independent Governor Bill Walker, said six weeks ago he thinks Sullivan is comfortably ahead.
"This is a shootout now," said Kendall. “Anything that happens that disrupts the fundamentals of the race needs Senator Sullivan to pan and explain in my opinion. And that is a difficult place for an incumbent. "
Still, Kendall doubted how effective the new influx of external spending would be if the state were already inundated with television commercials and postal votes that were already being mailed.
"If they just do big, loud TV ads, we're full," Kendall said. “I watch NFL football and see three Senate ads every time I commercial. I don't know how much of a difference this money can make unless they are creative and find a way to authentically connect with Alaskans. "
Democrats think it'll move the needle. Julia Savel, a spokeswoman for the Gross campaign, said in a statement that Sullivan does not represent "Alaskan values" and that he cannot be trusted to do the job.
"Those in the bottom 48 may have underestimated our race, but here in Alaska people want real change and want to send Dr. Al Gross to the Senate," said Savel.
The Republicans used the new inflow of money to tie Gross to the national party in hopes of peeling off any support he might have as an independent candidate. Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, described Gross's campaign as a "liberal program to mislead Alaska's voters" and said it was a "stamp" on the Democratic agenda in Washington.
Alaska was a reliable republican state at the federal level. Only one Democratic presidential candidate, Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 blowout victory, has promoted Alaska since statehood. And Democrats have only won one Senate race since the mid-1970s: Mark Begich ousted longtime GOP Senator Ted Stevens and served one term before being defeated by Sullivan in a close race in 2014.
Alaska also has tendencies towards independence. Third-party candidates received 12 percent of the vote in the 2016 presidential contest, as President Donald Trump's 51 percent share of the vote was lower than Mitt Romney's 2012 55 percent.
In recent years, Democrats have nominated candidates like Gross who are registered as independents but running in Democratic Elementary School. This year, Grand and House candidate Alyse Galvin will appear as Democrats on the ballot after state election officials changed the election design to identify candidates with the party primer they won, not their voter registration.
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