ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A tea party attempt to overcome a mainstream Republican came up short in Alaska as former state Attorney General Dan Sullivan won the GOP primary to become his party's candidate to take on U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in the fall.
Sullivan entered the primary the presumed front-runner, with the backing of national GOP powerbrokers and a huge cash advantage over his rivals.
On Tuesday night, Sullivan defeated tea party favorite Joe Miller, who made a late push reminiscent to his 2010 primary upset of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, meanwhile, was third. He conceded defeat late Tuesday night, surrounded by supporters, including his three children, at the downtown Anchorage venue where election results get posted.
The race is important to Republicans nationally because Begich, a first-term incumbent Democrat, is seen as vulnerable and the GOP needs a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate. Begich easily won his primary Tuesday.
The Alaska GOP Senate primary race mirrored national trends, with tea party conservatives trying to knock out mainstream Republicans.
Sullivan, who also had the support of Karl Rove and groups like Club for Growth, was considered the front-runner early on in part due to his fundraising prowess, which has rivaled that of Begich. Roughly $4 million in attacks have been run against Sullivan by a pro-Begich super PAC.
Tuesday morning, Sullivan was out with supporters — including his wife, three teenage daughters and niece — waving signs along a busy Anchorage street and looking relaxed.
He said the attack ads from Democrats and the super PAC Put Alaska First show, "they're afraid; they fear me."
Sullivan spent the last few days leading up to the primary covering hundreds of miles in an RV. He skipped the last debate to be broadcast statewide to focus on door-to-door campaigning.
"I'm proud of the campaign we ran," he said. "We have not left any stone unturned."
At a Wasilla-area polling place, Bruce Geraghty, 60, voted for Sullivan. He said he admired Sullivan's military service — Sullivan is a Marine Corps reservist — and his efforts to push back against federal overreach while attorney general.
Sullivan also has served as a state Natural Resources commissioner, "and he understands the Alaska economy, that the Alaska economy is based on resources," Geraghty said.
Former Gov. Sarah Palin, a paid contributor for Fox News who has little to do with state-level politics since appointing Sullivan attorney general and resigning in 2009, re-emerged to support an oil tax referendum that also was on the ballot — if successful, it would restore the tax system she championed as governor — and to endorse Miller.
Miller was largely considered a wild card and long shot, but he was running a race that smacked of 2010. That year, he upset Murkowski in the GOP primary but wound up losing to her in the general election after she ran a write-in campaign.
He had a network of loyal supporters, attention from conservative talk radio hosts and endorsements from anti-abortion and tea party-style groups. While he exuded confidence in the race's final days, Miller said late Tuesday afternoon, after being greeted warmly by sign-waving supporters along a busy Anchorage street, that he did all he could do.
"We've left nothing on the table," he said, noting the support he's received has been "phenomenal."
Miller, who spent the campaign painting his opponents as "establishment candidates," said in the waning days of the race that he would support the eventual nominee. That spoke to the state GOP's desire for the party to unite in the cause of defeating Begich and of avoiding a repeat of the divisive 2010 race.
Treadwell cast himself as the "electable" conservative, in contrast with Miller and played up his decades-long ties to the state, as opposed to Sullivan. He argued his knowledge of Alaska issues, from fisheries to aviation, made him the strongest candidate to challenge Begich.
Treadwell, who struggled to race money after Sullivan jumped in, said he was proud of the race he ran.
Alaska voters also advanced Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott to the general election, where independent candidate Bill Walker will await.
In the race for U.S. House, Republican Rep. Don Young, who is seeking a 22nd term, and 29-year-old political upstart Forrest Dunbar, a Democrat, both won their primaries.
The ballot measure on whether to repeal a new tax on oil companies operating in the state remained too close to call.
Another western state, Wyoming, also held its primary election Tuesday, as U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi and Rep. Cynthia Lummis defeated lesser-known challengers from within the Republican Party.