Begich Campaign Believes Race Comes Down To Rural Alaska

Just weeks before voters decide the future make up of the U.S. Senate, Bethel residents heard what might be the start of the final push by the incumbent Senator.

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Begich is trailing Republican challenger Dan Sullivan in several polls and is gambling on gaining an edge off the beaten path.

“So I make it very clear that rural Alaska and more specifically Alaska Native people will determine the outcome of this election, no question about it,” said Begich.

begich bethelBegich’s campaign repeats that statement over and over, including in a friendly reception at the annual Association of Village Council Presidents Convention in Bethel Thursday. He hopes delegates and volunteers there will bring his pitch to 56 villages, but he’s also banking on a small paid staff. Begich stopped at his Bethel field office, one of 16, which are responsible for delivering votes in the Y-K Delta and the Aleutian chain.

A couple dozen supporters eat chili and sign up volunteers for door knocking calling at a table full of berry buckets with his logo on them. Bethel resident Betsy Taguchi signed on to help.

“I think the race might be close, we could be the tipping point we’ve been a little, sit back about things over the years, and haven’t gotten out the vote the way we could have, and I think this year needs to be different,” said Taguchi.

Republican challenger Dan Sullivan is slated to make his first campaign stop in the Delta in the next couple weeks. His wife, Julie Fate Sullivan attended the AVCP convention and campaigned locally.

As Begich leaves his campaign office to catch the jet back to Anchorage, he contrasts his ground presence with his opponent’s and lists his visits over the years

“I was out here when I was [Anchorage] mayor, I was out here as an assembly member almost 25 years, ago, it’s a great community. I’ve been in the great parade on the 4th of July parade that starts on one end and it ends in the same place,” said Begich.

Begich did well on the Kuskowkwim in his 2008 election, winning over Senator Ted Stevens by a two-to-one margin in the region. He stands to gain from more turnout and is pushing hard for early voting, which starts October 20th. He says his ground game for election day is high tech and low tech.

“Our people who work for us and volunteers will be working the vote and the people every single day as soon as early voting starts. It’s not as simple as dial up and call people, that will be part of it, some will physically go to their doors and remind them, especially in small communities.”

Election day is November 4th.

Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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