By JAMES HOHMANN | 9/11/13 12:29 AM EDT
The GOP civil war may be coming to Alaska — and with it possibly the clearest test of whether the party can unite to win the Senate in 2014 or repeat the kind of bloodletting that proved so costly the past two elections.
A three- or even four-way primary is taking shape in the must-win state for Republicans, with candidates representing every corner of the GOP ideological map aiming to unseat first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.
Joe Miller, whose tea party-fueled Senate bid in 2010 imploded amid an endless string of gaffes and an overzealous private security team that handcuffed a reporter, is trying again. Threatening to split the establishment wing of the party are Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who has already entered the race, and Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, who is mulling over his plans but is believed to be leaning toward running.
And lingering in the background is Sarah Palin, the perennial wild card, who’s unlikely to jump in but isn’t ruling it out.
It all comes against the backdrop of a state Republican Party in turmoil after cycling through three chairmen in a year. A takeover by Ron Paul supporters was reversed by stalwarts of the old guard, leaving some activists bitter but heartening national party operatives focused on the mechanics of a victory operation.
Sen. Mark Begich, who prevailed in 2008 by about 4,000 votes over Republican incumbent Ted Stevens just weeks after his later-overturned felony convictions, should be toast — in theory. But he has relentlessly courted moderate voters and looks as well positioned as a Democrat can be in a red state that Mitt Romney carried by 15 percentage points.
The competition for Begich’s seat — which Republicans need to win under almost any scenario to capture the Senate — is a microcosm of the party’s broader struggles. This is the third election in a row in which establishment favorites in key races face serious challenges from insurgents.