JUNEAU, Alaska — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan said no one he's met during his first two months campaigning has asked about how long he's lived in Alaska, but the residency issue has been raised by the state Democratic party and the campaign of at least one of Sullivan's rivals for the GOP nomination next year, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, whose seat Republicans see as critical to their efforts to reclaim control of the Senate, was born and raised in Alaska; his father, Nick, was a U.S. representative. There is no question Sullivan can legally run for Senate. He meets the age and citizenship requirements and under the U.S. Constitution would simply have to live in the state upon election. But residency history has been used in past elections as a political argument to voters who can view outsiders cautiously.
Treadwell boasts of decades-long ties to the state. Another prominent GOP contender, Joe Miller, came to Alaska in 1994.
Sullivan, for his part, said, "The real test is, are we hearing it from anybody (else) and the answer is no."
Instead, he said Alaskans are focused on the state's challenges and supporting a candidate with a record of getting things done for Alaska.
Sullivan is originally from Ohio, and his wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, is from Alaska. The family moved to Alaska in 1997, and Sullivan worked as a law clerk and in private practice. In 2002, he left the state after receiving a White House fellowship. In 2004, he was recalled to active military duty, serving as a staff officer to the head of U.S. Central Command. Beginning in 2006, he served in President George W. Bush's administration as an Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs before returning to Alaska in 2009.
Sullivan was appointed state attorney general that year and Natural Resources commissioner in 2010, a post he held until resigning in September to run for Senate. The Marine Corps reservist also was recalled to active duty and deployed to Afghanistan last summer.
"I feel I was serving all Americans and all my fellow Alaskans during that time, and I'm proud of that service," Sullivan said in an interview this week.
Sullivan listed a home in Maryland as his principal residence while working on the East Coast, and his campaign has said that was for tax purposes. In 2009, he received an Alaska nonresident fishing license, and on fishing and hunting licenses for 2010 and 2011 listed his length of residency as one year and two years, respectively, according to public records. To qualify for a resident license, one must, according to state Fish and Game rules, be physically present in the state, maintain a home for the preceding year and not claim residency in another state.
Sullivan in 2013 listed his residency as 10 years, according to a copy of the Fish and Game license provided to The Associated Press. Campaign spokesman Mike Anderson said Sullivan called Fish and Game for guidance on what to list there and followed that guidance "because he knew politicians and political operatives would try to make an issue of this." Anderson said the 10 years reflects the total numbers of years Sullivan has been present in Alaska.
"The bottom line is, Dan's an Alaskan," he said, noting that Sullivan has owned a house in Alaska for more than a decade, had an Alaska driver's license since 1997 and has a voting history in Alaska.
Pollster Marc Hellenthal doesn't see residency being an issue with voters, noting that many Alaska residents are originally from someplace else. But University of Alaska Anchorage political science professor James Muller said it's too early to say what issues might resonate.
"There still is kind of a pride, even on the part of newcomers, as to how long they have been here," he said.
Hellenthal thinks a bigger issue is that voters might confuse Sullivan with the mayor of Anchorage, also named Dan Sullivan, who is running for lieutenant governor.
Treadwell campaign spokesman Fred Brown, who frequently refers to Sullivan as "Ohio Dan" on his Twitter feed, said in a statement that Alaskans "deserve a senator who understands the state's unique issues. That experience doesn't come overnight."