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Mark Begich’s Secret Weapon: Rural Ground Game

Begich:”No one’s ever done it like this”

CONTACT: Max Croes907-570-2065

ANCHORAGE- The Washington Post is calling Mark Begich’s Alaska grassroots network “on a scale far beyond anything that has been done here before.” This weekend the Washington Post reports that Begich holds a significant outreach advantage as Alaska’s coordinated campaign has sixteen offices open across the Alaska, Sullivan’s effort has five.

Born and raised in Alaska, Mark Begich believes talking face to face with Alaskans is the most important way to connect with voters and discuss the issues that are critical to Alaska, including standing up for our fishing industry, developing our natural resources, protecting subsistence rights and creating good paying jobs.

Begich’s grassroots focus stands in stark contrast to Senate candidate Dan Sullivan’s strategy of having the Koch brothers and Karl Rove buy Alaska’s Senate seat with millions in attack ads. Sullivan is heavily dependent on Outside super PACs and cash infusions from his Ohio-based family to fuel his campaign.

“We have knocked on every single door in rural Alaska,” Begich said in an interview. “This is unbelievable. No one’s ever done it like this — ever.”

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In Alaska’s remote villages, Begich quietly built an advantage on the ground

By Philip Rucker October 4 at 6:57 PM

QUINHAGAK, Alaska — One of the Alaskans who might save Democrat Mark Begich’s Senate seat had just returned home from a moose hunt.

Jackie Cleveland is a third-generation resident of Quinhagak, a coastal village of 700 so remote that no roads lead to this bleak patch of frigid tundra. Cleveland and the other Alaska Natives here speak the indigenous language Yup’ik, brave unforgiving winds along the Bering Sea and proudly hunt, fish and gather their own food.

On the gravel lanes and mucky yards of Quinhagak, this fall’s urgent fight for control of the U.S. Senate feels a world away. Yet this is where you’ll find Cleveland, 35, stepping into one living room after another to register her neighbors to vote and make the case for Begich.

Cleveland is part of Begich’s secret weapon: an expensive, sophisticated political field operation that reaches into tiny villages along rivers and in mountain ranges throughout the vast Last Frontier. The Begich ground game — which the senator and his campaign detailed for the first time to The Washington Post — is on a scale far beyond anything that has been tried before here.

On a crisp evening last week, Cleveland showed up at the home of Louie Johnson, 42. She knew Johnson — she knows just about everybody in Quinhagak — and cut to the chase: “Do you want some information about Mark Begich?”

“The most important issue for me in rural Alaska is survival,” Johnson said. Cleveland explained Begich’s work to protect subsistence rights to hunt moose and caribou on federal and state lands. She handed him a glossy handout with the title: “Mark Begich, True Alaska.” Then she turned to Johnson’s nephew, Jonathan Hunter, 19, who had been on the couch watching television, and helped him fill out his voter registration form.

“Quyana,” Cleveland said, using the Yup’ik word for “thanks,” before quickly moving along. There were more houses to visit before sundown.

‘Every single door’

In the Republican-leaning state of Alaska, in a Republican-leaning midterm election year, it would be easy to conclude that Begich is doomed. GOP nominee Dan Sullivan and his allies have been attacking Begich as a loyal foot soldier to President Obama whose voting record does not match Alaska’s more conservative values. In an interview, Sullivan said Begich “went to Washington and forgot who he represented.”

But Begich believes his ground game can help him withstand the unfavorable political climate. He is not alone: In competitive Senate races nationwide, Democratic candidates have invested heavily in surgical turnout operations to drive people who traditionally vote only in presidential elections to the polls in November.

The Democrats’ showcase is Alaska, where neither party previously had much grass-roots infrastructure because of its Republican tilt and the logistical obstacles of traveling between rural villages.

A system to mobilize voters is particularly important this year because Alaska is dramatically expanding opportunities for early voting, which begins Oct. 20.

In 2012, Alaska had 82 early voting locations, mostly in urban and suburban areas. But after Alaska Native leaders demanded better access in rural villages, the state is opening 208 early voting locations this month — 161 of them in rural Alaska. This means that the campaigns have a full two weeks to marshal voters to the polls.

Sullivan has five field offices in the state’s most-populated areas, just as Begich did during his 2008 campaign. But this year, Begich opened 16 offices, many in far-flung communities.

Whereas Sullivan and the Republican Party have 14 field staffers on the payroll, Begich and the Democratic Party have 90. Nearly half of them are based in rural Alaska and are responsible for on-the-ground organizing in the state’s 198 Native villages such as Quinhagak.

“We have knocked on every single door in rural Alaska,” Begich said in an interview. “This is unbelievable. No one’s ever done it like this — ever.”

Only about 250,000 of Alaska’s 500,000 registered voters are expected to vote this year, meaning the hotly contested Senate race could be decided by a couple thousand votes. Polling is notoriously unreliable here, but Sullivan has led in recent public surveys, and nonpartisan forecasting models give the Republican an edge.

Still, Begich said, “I don’t care if we’re up or down. We’re winning on the ground because we will turn out more voters.”

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