Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan is stepping down from his post amid talk that he’s planning a run for U.S. Senate. Republicans see incumbent Mark Begich’s seat as one of the keys to taking control of Congress, and the race is already getting heated.
Sullivan announced his resignation to Gov. Sean Parnell on Wednesday night, giving September 24 as his last day. According to Parnell’s spokesperson, the governor will name an acting commissioner at that point, while he looks for a permanent replacement.
Sullivan has been a commissioner since 2010, and before that, he was the state’s attorney general. In his resignation letter, he trumpeted his work in both positions. What Sullivan didn’t mention is what he plans to do next. Gov. Parnell didn’t get into that either, though he did give Sullivan a blessing of sorts, saying he wishes him “much success” in the future.
The expectation is that he’s going to join the ranks of Republicans looking to take on Democrat Mark Begich.
“Several candidates have already declared — Joe Miller, Mead Treadwell, Kathleen Tonn — and most people seem to believe that Commissioner Dan Sullivan is going to join the race very soon,” says Peter Goldberg, the state party chair.
Goldberg says that even though the field is getting crowded, he’s still hoping to avoid a messy primary. That seat is one of a handful that Republicans need to win, if they want a majority in the Senate. The Republican National Committee is sending a state director to set up shop this month, and its chair, Reince Priebus, plans to visit Alaska in October.
Even though Sullivan isn’t a household name, there are Republican leaders in Alaska and Washington, DC, who think he could be a viable candidate for higher office. In addition to his time in the governor’s cabinet, he also worked in the State Department during the Bush administration and he served in Afghanistan as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps as recently as last month. He couldn’t be reached for comment for this story, because he’s traveling back from Japan on a state trip.
Political watchers expect Sullivan to appeal to party moderates. That’s the same wing that Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell might attract. On Thursday, Treadwell opened a campaign office in Anchorage, and he warned that Republicans shouldn’t turn the primary into a “demolition derby.” In a phone call after the event, he said in-fighting would weaken the party’s chances.
“The Democrats have got to have a strategy to see us divided, to see us use up our resources before the primary. I hope we just don’t have to destroy each other in a campaign, and I’m going to do my best to run a good clean campaign.”
Treadwell says he doesn’t view Sullivan as a threat to him.
“I don’t see any reason why he needs to run, frankly, and we’ve got a good Alaskan in the race who’s been making it pretty clear that we’re going this direction for some time. But if he does, I am prepared to my record up against his, and I believe we’ll win,” says Treadwell. “I got about a 35-year head start on him and working in Alaska issues here.”
Meanwhile, Joe Miller, a Tea Party candidate who challenged Lisa Murkowski in 2010, has marked himself as the more conservative candidate in the race. Randy DeSoto, a spokesperson for Miller, says it’s too early to say how Sullivan’s entrance might shift race dynamics.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to speculate on which candidate would benefit whether one gets in or gets out,” says DeSoto. “We feel that our message will attract those people who supported Joe in the past, and we’ll be appealing to others as well going forward.”
There will be plenty of time to compete for voters. The Republican primary will be held August 19, a full eleven months from now.
Earlier Story: Breaking News: Dan Sullivan resigning as DNR commissioner
(Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the branch of the military Sullivan is in. A previous version of this story stated Sullivan was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army while he is actually a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. We apologize for the error.)