This article was published by Alaska Dispatch News, on September 26, 2014
Poll results have fluctuated over the course of the campaign, but the consistency of the recent results suggests Sullivan could be opening a lead, and a pair of respected national models now show him with a two-thirds chance of winning the election.
Three of the polls were released Thursday -- two by local conservative polling firms that had Sullivan up by 6 and 5 points respectively, and another by the Republican-leaning national firm Rasmussen Reports, which put Sullivan ahead by 5 points.
Those surveys come just after a poll released Tuesday by the national firm Public Policy Polling, which typically works for Democratic candidates and causes, that showed Sullivan ahead by 2 points.
Liberal-leaning local pollster Ivan Moore listed several concerns with some of the individual surveys. The Rasmussen poll, for example, doesn’t call cellphones and instead relies on calls to land lines mixed with online surveys.
And one of the local polls, conducted by Dittman Research, was paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which released the results in conjunction with the group’s endorsement of Sullivan on Thursday.
But, Moore added, “if four polls come out in a row showing Sullivan in the lead, he’s probably in the lead.”
Asked about the polls, a spokesman for Begich, Max Croes, said the U.S. Senate campaign is about “getting out and talking to Alaskans.”
“There’s a number of numbers that have changed over the course of time, sure,” Croes said. “They’re going to go up and they’re going to go down.”
Through this week, polls in the U.S. Senate race had been mixed. And even last week, a poll conducted by Anchorage firm Hays Research on behalf of a labor group showed Begich ahead of Sullivan by 5 points, as did a survey released the week before by Put Alaska First and Senate Majority PAC, two outside groups that have supported Begich’s campaign.
“Mark Begich has had a consistent lead for the past 12 months,” Jim Lottsfeldt, the Anchorage consultant who runs Put Alaska First, said in a text message. “Polls may bounce around, but he has fundamentally run a near-perfect campaign.”
Begich did, in fact, lead many polls conducted over the summer -- one by 12 points -- but he didn’t lead all of them.
The recent poll results swung the models used by national outlets to PREDICT the outcome of all the U.S. Senate seats at stake in November. The New York Times’ model recently shifted to give Sullivan a 66 percent chance of victory, up from 59 percent, while the model from website FiveThirtyEight shows Sullivan’s odds at 67 percent.
A spokesman for Sullivan, Mike Anderson, refused to answer questions about the new polls Thursday, saying the campaign doesn’t comment on public polls.
But in emails to supporters, the campaign has characterized the new polls as a sign Sullivan is gaining momentum and used the numbers in its appeals to raise money.
“Even Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling has me leading Mark Begich,” said a post on Sullivan’s Facebook page this week. And a news release Thursday from an Anchorage-based spokesman for the Republican National Committee said Begich was “struggling to overcome a series of mishaps.”
Croes, Begich’s spokesman, responded in an email: “Sullivan CONTINUES to hide from Alaskans and is now claiming campaign momentum produced by rubbing elbows with Outside groups and billionaires, not Alaskans.”
Moore said he saw two dynamics in the campaign that could have hurt Begich in the recent poll numbers. One was the withdrawal from the race this month by Vic Kohring, the Alaskan Independence Party candidate and former Republican state legislator whose supporters likely defected to Sullivan, Moore said.
The second was the Begich campaign’s decision to run a controversial TV ad that included a clip from the scene of a notorious Anchorage double homicide, which drew public objections from the family of the victims.
Moore called the ad a “terrible mistake” and said it’s “tough” for a campaign to reverse a trend like the one Begich is seeing.
But, he added, “This is all happening fairly early.”
“There’s plenty of time left for mistakes to be made,” he said. “For crying out loud, what have we got left? More than five weeks.”