U.S. Sen. Mark Begich trails GOP Senate candidate Dan Sullivan by a six-point margin, according to a new poll conducted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by Anchorage-based Dittman Research, which polls mostly for Republicans and has a history of accurate polling in the state. The Chamber officially endorsed Sullivan on Thursday.
The poll, conducted Sept. 14-17, surveyed 800 likely voters in live phone interviews. It showed that Sullivan leads Begich by 49 percent to 43 percent, with only four percent undecided.
Also worrisome for Begich is that Sullivan has a 12-point lead among those who say they are “extremely” interested in the election. In a generic question, 54 percent of the voters think it’s time to give someone another chance at the job, 32 percent approve of Obama and 69 percent of the voters think the country is on the “wrong track.”
The poll was released following a press conference in Anchorage with Rob Engstrom, the U.S. Chamber’s national political director, who flew to Anchorage to announce the endorsement. (And was met with an earthquake while he was doing so. See the video below.) The U.S. Chamber had already endorsed Sullivan in the primary, but it hadn’t yet done so in the general. The endorsement from the behemoth will bring a slew of Chamber-financed ads through the group’s political arm.
Engstrom declined to say how much the group will spend. He did say that Alaska is among the top three races most important to the Chamber, and that it will “spend what it takes” to ensure that voters know that Begich does not represent the interests of business, he said.
Begich’s spokesperson Max Croes said in a statement that the Chamber doesn’t represent local chambers, and pointed out that Sullivan has declined to commit to an Anchorage Chamber Senate forum.
“Dan still hasn’t committed to debate Mark Begich at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce because he’s intent on using Outside groups and their ads to avoid telling Alaskans how he’s set on representing the Koch brothers Outside agenda,” Croes said. He also pointed out the Sullivan’s brother is on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Anchorage Chamber belongs to the U.S. Chamber, but it is nonpartisan. When the U.S. Chamber began airing ads featuring Sullivan and Begich in the primary, Andrew Halcro, the president of the Anchorage Chamber, said that he was “mad as hell.” In a later Facebook post, he called Begich a “great” senator because Begich helped his daughter who is in the Peace Corps. Halcro had also worked on Begich’s transition team when Begich was elected mayor in 2002.
Engstrom said that the U.S. Chamber listens and works with local groups, but Begich has only rated 50 percent on the U.S. Chamber’s score card—which judges a senator’s record based on key votes. A 70 percent cumulative score will get you an automatic endorsement. In 2013, there were eight such votes. Begich got 50 percent, and Murkowski got a 71 percent rating for her votes in 2013. Cumulatively, Murkowski’s rating is 90 percent and Begich’s is 50 percent.
Only six Senate Democrats had a higher cumulative score than Begich. None of them, however, reached 70 percent.
Engstrom said that his group is willing and eager to endorse Democrats. A bipartisan Congress, he said, “serves us well.”
But since 2008, the Obama Administration and Senate President Harry Reid have pulled their members increasingly farther away from business interests, he said.
In 2008, the Chamber endorsed four Senate Democrats and supported 38 Democrats in both chambers. This year, it’s only supporting six Democratic House members and no Democratic senators.
The group’s support of Republicans have led to charges that the Chamber has become an organ for the Republican Party. Engstrom disputes that. Democrats , he said, have “walked away from us. We haven’t walked away from them.”
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