TIME U.S.

Shut Up Already About Obama’s Tan Suit! Let’s Talk Substance Over Style

President Obama Makes Statement In The Briefing Room Of White House
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House August 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Suitgate is giving the president a taste of what it's like to live in a woman's world. But what good does that do anyone?

Female politicians have been criticized for what they wear since they first began running for office. Hair too long, skirt too short, too much or too little makeup: any and all of it can derail an interview and focus attention on style over substance. It almost doesn’t matter what you say if you don’t look good doing it, the television adage goes.

Welcome to the women’s world, President Obama. Isn’t it fun? The tempest over the President wearing a tan summer suit on Thursday has virtually overshadowed the important messages he delivered on hostilities in Ukraine and Iraq. As a woman, I’m kind of glad to see a man held to the same crazy standards that we are. But that doesn’t make the standards any less ridiculous, male or female.

This President seems particularly prone to sartorial bullying. Obama has been criticized far more than other recent Presidents; I had to really think hard for similar sturm und drang for George Bushes 1 & 2 or Bill Clinton and came up with virtually nothing (unless you count Clinton making the G7 leaders get dressed up as cowboys, but that seemed more like him having some fun at their expense than an actual fashion misstep). But Obama has drawn ire for his lack of an American flag pin during the primaries that fed conspiracy theories that he wasn’t really American; his mom jeans; and just last week, his lack of tie while addressing the crisis in Iraq from Martha’s Vineyard, where he was vacationing.

What we wear has no impact on what we’re saying, so why does it matter so much? Hillary Clinton has been drawing scrutiny and headlines since velvet headband in her her 60 Minutes interview with Bill in 1992. Sarah Palin got savaged for her big hair, heavy makeup and “porn-star looks.” Condoleeza Rice was accused of going too sexy when she wore black leather knee high boots as Secretary of State. Just last year, the New York Times marked the historic number of women in the 113th Congress by doing a fashion profile of their purses. And these are the things we remember: their hair, their pedicures, their heads photoshopped onto a woman in a bikini, not so much their policies or platforms. Because style is always easier to digest than substance.

Up until recently, men seemed relatively immune to this kind of fluffy criticism. Granted, male politicians rarely venture beyond dull grey suits. Obama once told Vanity Fair in 2012 that he only wore grey and blue suits. But when they do break this unspoken rule, as Obama did on Thursday, do they deserve the kind of evisceration that he got? “The Audacity of Taupe,” tweeted Jared Keller, a programming director at startup MicNews. “Yes we tan!” read another headline. Wall Street Journal economic-policy reporter Damian Paletta tweeted, “I’m sorry but you can’t declare war in a suit like that.” Never mind that the President just announced he had no strategy for the conflict in Iraq and Syria.

Sometimes a boring uniform can be helpful: It creates unanimity and a reassuring predictability. It’s why the military has uniforms. But America isn’t a militarized state. And verging outside the norm shouldn’t detract from important work. Women have learned this the hard way: conform or die, politically. And even a pro like Clinton can still draw criticism after 30 years in the public spotlight when, in the midst of international crises, she didn’t wear makeup or have time to cut her hair. It’s dispiriting to see the same level of scrutiny now being applied to men. I wish the great equalizer would be to leave all comments about appearances off the table.

Jay Newton-Small is TIME’s congressional correspondent and she’s working on a book about women in politics.

TIME 2014 Election

Howard Dean’s Group Endorses Mary Burke in Wisconsin

Wisconsin democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke at the Rock County 4-H Fair on July 24, 2014, in Janesville, Wis.
Wisconsin democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke at the Rock County 4-H Fair on July 24, 2014, in Janesville, Wis. Andy Manis—AP

Or, better said, Dean’s group reiterates its opposition to Gov. Scott Walker

Mary Burke, a millionaire former executive at Trek Bicycles, is not your typical Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate—at least not for Democrats. But whatever leeriness progressives once had of Burke has worn off as her campaign has gained momentum. On Thursday, Democracy for America, the 50-state group pulled together by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, endorsed Burke’s campaign against Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

“From his failure to deliver on the 250,000 jobs he promised voters to his efforts kick the poor off Badgercare and end collective bargaining, Scott Walker’s years in office have been an unmitigated disaster for Wisconsin working families,” said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America. “After working for years to defeat him, Democracy for America members in Wisconsin and across the country can’t wait to knock on every door and make every phone call necessary to send Mary Burke to Madison and end Scott Walker’s political career once and for all.”

If you can’t tell, the endorsement is less pro-Burke and more anti-Walker. That’s because progressives still have not forgiven Walker for breaking the unions’ ability to collectively bargain in Wisconsin, and for winning an expensive recall attempt. Still, the intensity of the left’s hatred for Walker did not overcome his voter strength in the low turnout election of the recall.

Unfortunately for Burke, it’s rare that hatred of the other guy ever wins an election completely. A new Marquette poll, the gold standard of Wisconsin surveys, released Wednesday found Walker still leading Burke 47.5% to 44.1% among registered voters, within the poll’s margin of error of plus of minus 3.5 percentage points.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama and Congress Play Hot Potato With War Powers in Syria

President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard, Mass. during his vacation on Aug. 20, 2014.
President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard, in Massachusetts, during his vacation on Aug. 20, 2014 Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Few savor the idea of voting for military action with the midterm elections looming

White House photographer Pete Souza tweeted a photo of President Barack Obama and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough taking a meditative walk on the White House grounds Monday. It was a small reminder of the infamous walk the pair took nearly a year ago when Obama decided to go to Congress for permission to bomb Syria. That proposition turned out badly: congressional support cratered and Obama was left to scramble a diplomatic solution.

On a gorgeous Monday evening nearly a year later, the pair in their shirtsleeves could have been discussing almost the same dilemma: How does Obama continue to bomb Iraq and begin aerial strikes on Islamist militants in Syria without permission from Congress?

There are some in Congress who are calling on Obama to push through a War Powers Resolution. Article II of the Constitution grants the President the power to defend the country. But Article I gives only Congress the power to declare war. So, what in a post-war-on-terrorism era constitutes an actual war? In 1973, afraid of Vietnam mission creep, Congress passed the War Powers Act, which requires the President to consult Congress 60 days after engaging in hostilities. If you count bombing a foreign country as hostile — as the U.S. did against militants in northern Iraq on Aug. 7 — then the 60 days expires Oct. 7.

Theoretically, if Congress cares about not further weakening its oversight of the President’s ability to bomb whatever country he pleases, lawmakers will move to pass a War Powers Resolution in the next month. Presidents, including Obama, have argued that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional. But a turf fight over who gets to go to war is the last thing on Congress’ mind weeks before the midterm elections.

“Congress does not have the political will to approve a War Powers Resolution when the American people have very little appetite for war,” said Ron Bonjean, a former senior Republican congressional aide. “Getting the approval of Congress before the November elections to bomb ISIS targets in Iraq would likely require an attack on American soil or a very imminent threat of danger. Members of Congress want to secure their own re-elections and this type of vote could be the defining factor in several tight Senate races across the country.”

Thus far, the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees in the House and Senate, which would have jurisdiction over a War Powers Resolution, have been waiting to hear what Obama wants to do. Congress has a spotty history of authorizing hostilities under this President. The House only succeeded on its third try in passing a tepid authorization for action in Libya — more than three months after U.S. involvement in Libya actually began. On Syria, both chambers balked at authorizing hostilities after Obama asked for support in the wake Syrian strongman Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. When congressional support disappeared, Obama was forced to make a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to rid Syria of chemical weapons, rather than using force against Assad.

Few Republicans, a Senate Republican aide told TIME, want to vote to support the President, especially in election season. If Obama were to ask for money for his actions — a back-door way of showing congressional support for military action without having to outright condone it — that vote would be easier as it would be a vote for the troops, the aide said.

“The GOP must fear losing what feels like big momentum right now with the chance that the President will get a rally around the flag effect,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t sense that, through the midterm prism, the Democrats’ concern would be as great.”

Still, voting to expand hostilities in Iraq isn’t the most popular thing with Democrats either: Obama got elected in part because of his early and strong opposition to the war in Iraq — a “clean break from the failed policies and politics of the past,” as then candidate Obama called it in a March 2008 speech. It’s ironic that before his last midterm-election fight, he finds himself struggling to persuade Congress to return to a country he prided himself on leaving.

The most likely path here is that Obama will continue to do what he’s been doing, and probably expand attacks into Syria, using the Article II justification. As the White House has argued, he’s protecting Americans in Erbil, the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq. By that measure, wherever America has an embassy, or citizens in peril, Presidents in the future will now have the precedent to engage in hostilities to protect them.

Last year, as Obama paced the grounds with McDonough, the constitutional-law Professor in Chief damned the politics and worried about going beyond previous precedent. A year later, and he’ll have no choice but to bow to the realpolitik of midterm elections.

TIME 2016 Election

Pro-Clinton Group Touts Her Record on Women

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - July 30, 2014
Hillary Clinton is seen arriving at The Carlyle Hotel on July 30, 2014 in New York City. Alessio Botticelli—GC Images/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton’s shadow campaign emphasizes her empowerment of women

A group dedicated to defending and promoting Hillary Clinton’s record ahead of a possible 2016 presidential bid used Women’s Equality Day to tout her record of promoting women Tuesday.

The group Correct the Record released a two-page document entitled “Breaking Glass: Women’s Economic Empowerment.” The document, given exclusively to TIME, looks at Clinton’s work to promote women’s and girls’ issues as Secretary of State. The issue was Clinton’s top policy priority. The push came after her failed 2008 presidential bid, during which she didn’t highlight the historic nature of her candidacy until the end of the campaign, famously saying only in her concession speech that her bid to be the first female president represented “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling” for the 18 million votes she’d received in the primaries.

Many Clinton advisers who’d worked on the campaign have said in retrospect that they wished they’d emphasized the historic opportunity she had to be the first female president earlier. Clinton lost the women’s vote in 16 state and territorial primaries to Barack Obama. Already this time, Ready for Hillary, another arm of Clinton’s shadow campaign, has focused on outreach to female voters as a priority.

Correct the Record’s promotion of Clinton’s record also speaks to that push, highlighting the work that she’s done to further women and children globally. The group notes that Clinton created the office of Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues and raised women’s issues at all international economic forums. She launched the Equal Futures Partnership to advance women in politics and the private sector. Along with Asian Partners she pushed through the San Francisco Declaration, an agreement to realize women’s economic potential. With help from Middle Eastern countries she launched the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society, which brought together and empowered activists in the region to work on women’s economic and political. In Latin America and the Caribbean she launched WEAmericas to help women grow small businesses. In Africa, she created the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program to help train women qualify for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade agreement that gives privileged trade status to certain African countries and businesses. And she directed the Invest for the Future program in Southern and Eastern Europe and Eurasia to focus on women’s entrepreneurship.

“Hillary Clinton championed such unprecedented and impassioned work at the State Department to advance women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment that it would take an entire book to fully chronicle her efforts,” said Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the group. “Correct The Record put together this ‘Breaking Glass’ record analysis to highlight Clinton’s many successes, including several multilateral partnerships and programs which raised the profile of women’s issues and resulted in greater economic engagement of women around the world.”

TIME Syria

White House: ISIS Not Planning to Attack U.S. Homeland — Yet

Josh Earnest
White House press secretary Josh Earnest speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Hundreds of Westerners are joining the fight in Iraq and Syria, but the U.S. has found no evidence of a plot against the homeland over SIS

The U.S. government has no evidence of a current plot by fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) to attack the U.S. homeland, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

“We are concerned about the threat that is posed by [ISIS], but it is the assessment, as stated by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the intelligence community, that there currently is not an active plot under way to attack the U.S. homeland,” Earnest told reporters.

Nonetheless, concerns that ISIS fighters with the passports of Western countries could attack Europe or the U.S. has Western governments on heightened alert. Some U.S. lawmakers are calling for a revision of the visa-waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries — mostly Europeans and other Western allies — to enter the U.S. and stay for 90 days without a visa. “They can bring … what they’ve learned about bombmaking and about assassinations with them here at home,” said House Armed Services Committee vice chairman Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican, on CNN on Sunday.

Approximately 12,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria from at least 50 countries, said Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department. Several dozen are suspected to hold U.S. passports, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in July.

Britain estimates that more than 500 people linked to the U.K. have traveled to Syria since the uprising began. “Obviously, it’s very difficult to give precise numbers on this,” said Jessica Jennings, a spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. The French Ministry of Interior has estimated that roughly 900 French citizens are currently waging jihad in Syria, Iraq and Libya. And German intelligence fears nearly 300 German nationals have traveled to Syria.

“One of the concerns is that we want to make sure that we confront this threat before it gets worse, before they’re able to establish a safe haven in which they could build a larger international network and conceive of a broader conspiracy that would allow them to carry out a more — a broader, more violent catastrophic attack,” Earnest said.

ISIS extremists “are one plane ticket away from U.S. shores,” House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, adding that an attack against the U.S. “is a very real threat.” The violence in Syria has already spread to Europe. In May, a shooting at a Jewish museum in Brussels left three dead. Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old Frenchman who traveled to Syria in 2013 to join the fighting, allegedly carried out that attack.

Also in May, 22-year-old Moner Mohammad Abusalha, from West Palm Beach, Fla., drove a truck laden with explosives into a government position in northern Syria, becoming the first American suicide bomber in the three-year-old war.

A month earlier, 19-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley was arrested at the Denver airport en route to Adana, Turkey, less than 100 miles from the Syrian border. Conley was detained after she told Colorado police she planned to go overseas and wage jihad. She was hoping to marry a 32-year-old Tunisian man in Syria whom she met on the Internet, according to the charges filed against her.

In June, Texan Michael Wolfe, was arrested at the Houston airport preparing to fly to Turkey. He told agents he planned to use a $5,000 federal tax refund to move his wife and two kids to Turkey and then join the fighting in Syria.

In July, a 20-year-old man was stopped by FBI agents at the Orange County airport in California as he tried to board a flight to Turkey en route to Syria. Adam Dandach, also known as Fadi Fadi Dandach, told agents that he would kill U.S. soldiers if ISIS asked him. Dandach had applied for an expedited passport replacement after his mother had hidden his original in December to prevent him from joining ISIS.

Holder in July called on other Western countries to join the U.S. in criminalizing “preparatory acts of terrorism” like providing “material support” to terrorist groups, the legal justification that the U.S. has used to detain suspected American ISIS followers. Holder also called for greater use of undercover agents to infiltrate Western ISIS groups, asked that allies do a better job of sharing traveler information and recommended that governments invest more in counterradicalization programs.

Some countries have already taken steps to stem the flow. The British Parliament passed a law in May that tightened punishments for joining or helping terrorist groups. Since then, 20 British citizens have been stripped of their citizenship and at least 40 people have been arrested on charges of helping Syrian militant groups.

France, which has passed a legislation banning “preparatory acts of terrorism,” is considering blocking websites that recruit jihadists, and a legislation that empowers the police to stop French citizens from traveling abroad. Norway, which estimates that 40 to 50 of its citizens have traveled to Syria, has also passed a “preparatory act of terrorism” law and made the first arrest under that law in February.

— With reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME History

Sunday Is the 200th Anniversary of the Burning of the White House

Capture and Burning of the city of Washington, 1815. White House
Capture and Burning of the city of Washington, 1814. Heritage Images/Getty Images

It’s an anniversary few seem to want to mark, except the victor

Look around Washington D.C. this summer and you’ll find parades, speeches and shows to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the 100th anniversary of World War I. Heck, there are even exhibits honoring the 25th anniversary of Prague’s Velvet Revolution and the fact the 50 years ago the Beatles first invaded America, to much teenage frenzy.

But what you won’t find are a lot of mentions about the War of 1812’s bicentennial. “Wait,” you may ask, “if it was the War of 1812, why would we celebrate it in 1814?”

“Although it seems rather morbid to celebrate the burning of Washington in the summer of 1814, it was the turning point of the war,” says Leslie Jones, public programs manager at the White House Historical Association, one of a dozen organizations organizing events marking the anniversary. “It was the force that pushed the American side to really come out and push for the victory that culminated in the battle of New Orleans with Andrew Jackson a few months later.”

Perhaps we don’t celebrate The War of 1812 because we started it to get back Canada, which we wound up losing for a second time, along with most of the buildings in the brand new capital. But the War of 1812 is worth commemorating: it cemented America’s identity as nation and it gave us Francis Scott Key’s ode to the Battle of Fort McHenry — also known as the Star Spangled Banner.

“This is an area of history that is so not well known by the broader American public,” says Karen Daly, executive director of Dumbarton House, a historic Washington property that is now a museum. “I find when people visit Dumbarton House, an incredible number of Americans don’t even know this event even happened. They tend to jump from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. This area of history is glossed over in our schooling. And yet, this is what gave us our national anthem and it is very much the event that cemented the union and the democracy. It’s an incredible piece of our history.”

You won’t likely see Michelle Obama reenacting Dolly Madison saving George Washington’s portrait from the burning White House this weekend. But Aug. 24, the actual day of the 200th anniversary of the burning of the White House and the Capitol, will be celebrated in Washington with a 5k run at the Historic Congressional Cemetery, a family festival in Georgetown and a beer festival at Yards Park. And there’s one group that’s really celebrating: the British Embassy, tongue just a little in cheek, will be holding a “White House BBQ . . . on the 200th anniversary of a rather unfortunate event in UK/US relations . . .”

TIME Crime

Claire McCaskill: Ferguson Will Mean More Diversity in Missouri’s Government

Senators Discuss Reforms To Combat Military Sexual Assaults
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) speaks at a news conference July 25, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Allison Shelley—Getty Images

Missouri senator also says cops and cop cars should get cameras

There have already been lessons learned from what’s happening in Ferguson, says Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. “I think it has certainly spurred in me, and in many others, to listen harder,” she tells TIME, “especially to young people who feel hopeless and helpless about what this country is offering them.”

After nearly two weeks, the violence in Ferguson seems to be dying down, with the National Guard standing wary watch over the troubled town. Protests first erupted after a police officer shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9. Though there are conflicted reports on exactly what happened, witnesses says Brown had his hands up and was surrendering when he was shot. Brown’s death sparked outrace and protests in Ferguson, a mostly black enclave whose political and law enforcement leaders are mostly white.

McCaskill says the first order of business in Ferguson is to end the violence, which is proving difficult given the influx of troublemakers, many of whom have traveled to Missouri “for the express purpose of inciting violence, shooting police officers, throwing Molotov cocktails and looting,” McCaskill said, though Wednesday night was the calmest evening in nearly a week. “A long list of people were arrested [Tuesday night], but most of them were from other states. How do you protect the peaceful protesters from the violence among them? I’m saddened because local people want to go out and express anger, frustration, hurt and now it’s dangerous for them to do that and for no good reason.”

After that, she said, it’s a priority to get the investigation right so there can be no questions about the justice delivered. That’s why it’s important to have another autopsy and to comb over all the evidence again, so prosecutors can be sure of what happened. Often times in America’s history, she notes, when local law enforcement has failed, the federal government has stepped in. “Many civil rights came about, not when they were passed into law, but because the federal government did what it should and saw them enforced,” McCaskill said. “I think the President understands that history and our country.”

Why did Ferguson erupt in demonstrations and almost nightly violence? McCaskill says that what happened there was due to a lack of trust between law enforcement and the community. “Many countries struggle and never get to the point where people have faith that laws are executed fairly,” says the former Jackson County prosecutor. “Clearly, a large number of African-Americans don’t have faith that the laws are being executed fairly in Ferguson, and that’s a problem … We need to ensure Africans-Americans feel confident in the rule of law.

“My sense is that there’s a sensitivity in Washington that this has sparked something in this country that is much bigger than a police shooting—there’s a sensitivity from the Attorney General and the President,” McCaskill added. “I think they realized it’s a surrogate for a larger problem in the United States.”

Moving forward, McCaskill said a number of issues must be addressed so what’s happening in Ferguson doesn’t happen again. There are relatively easy solutions, like equipping cops and cop cars with cameras, she said. And then there are longer-term solutions. “The vast majority of the local government in Ferguson ran unopposed last time,” McCaskill told TIME. “We need candidate schools to recruit more young African-Americans to run for office and more diverse law enforcement communities.” Rebuilding anything, she says, whether it’s trust or a building, takes time.

TIME 2014 Election

Dan Sullivan Wins Alaska’s GOP Senate Primary

And it didn't take long for general election fight to begin in earnest

Former Alaska Natural Resources commissioner Dan Sullivan won a nasty—and with nearly $10 million spent, costly—GOP primary Tuesday to take on Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat vying for a second term — and it didn’t take long for the two campaigns to start slinging attacks at each other.

With 98.6% of precincts reporting, Sullivan garnered 40% of the vote to Tea Partier Joe Miller’s surprisingly strong 32% and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s embarrassing 23%. Though Miller had once threatened to run as an independent spoiler should he lose the primary, he said in recent weeks that he’d back the nominee. With the Republican Party finally united after an eight-month primary battle, Sullivan and Democrats quickly turned to the general election fight.

Labeling Sullivan an “Outsider” within minutes of the results, Democrats launched what will surely be the first of many attacks on what they call Sullivan’s carpetbagger status. Sullivan grew up in Ohio before joining the Marines. When he left the Corps in 1997, he moved to Alaska where he practiced law for five years before moving to Washington DC to join the Bush Administration in 2002. He returned to Alaska in 2007 to serve as then Gov. Sarah Palin’s attorney general and then director of the National Resources Commission.

“Alaska’s bitter and divisive Republican primary exposed that Dan Sullivan does not look out for what’s in the best interests of Alaskans,” said Matt Canter, deputy director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the Senate. “After carrying water for Sarah Palin and trying to restrict access to public lands for hunters and fishers, Sullivan is now hoping to do the Koch brothers’ bidding in the U.S. Senate.”

Republicans, meanwhile, worked to tie Begich, a former Anchorage mayor, to President Obama, who is disliked by six out of 10 Alaskan voters. “Mark Begich has championed the Obama agenda, and served on [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid’s leadership team that has brought the Senate to a grinding halt,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate. “Even though Senator Begich has failed to pass even a single amendment during his five years in Washington, he has voted for the Obama agenda a staggering 97% of the time – including costly energy taxes, spending increases, and of course, ObamaCare.”

Alaska remains one of the most hard fought Senate races and the battle between Begich and Sullivan—and their outside groups— is only just ramping up. If Alaskans were hoping for a respite in the biting television ads and dirty mailers, it’s going to be another two and a half months yet.

TIME 2014 midterm elections

Alaska Voters Get Ready for the Polar Primary

Alaska Senate Republicans
From left, U.S. Senate Republican candidates Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell take part in a debate in Eagle River, Alaska on Aug. 4, 2014. Mark Thiessen—AP

Alaskans vote to pick which Republican will take on Democratic Sen. Mark Begich

Alaskans go to the polls Tuesday to decide the match up for the last big Senate race of the 2014 cycle. Voters there will pick which Republican will challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, a former Anchorage mayor seeking a second Senate term.

The GOP primary has already been messy. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell entered the race as the establishment favorite and 11 points up in at least one poll a year ago. However, Treadwell faltered on fundraising and organization, giving a window to Dan Sullivan, the former Natural Resources commissioner under once-governor Sarah Palin. Sullivan quickly cemented himself as the frontrunner, garnering the support of the likes of Karl Rove, and has lead in polls since.

That said, don’t discount the 49th state’s ability to surprise politically. The third candidate on the ballot is a living example of that: Joe Miller, a Tea Partier who beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary in 2010 but lost the general election to Murkowski, who waged a rare write-in campaign. Sullivan generally garners 30-40% in polls, with Treadwell pulling 20-25% and Miller coming in with 15%-20%. Polls, though, are notoriously unreliable in this state.

The nasty primary, replete with one Miller mailer depicting illegal aliens as gang thugs, has been expensive for Republicans, with Sullivan spending more than $3 million of the $4 million he raised by the end of July. Treadwell spent more than $1 million and Miller nearly $600,000. Begich enters the general election with more than $2 million cash on hand, having spent a whopping $5.2 million in ads promoting himself or attacking his would-be rivals, mostly focusing his fire on Sullivan.

And what Alaska primary would be complete without a bit of confusion? There’s also a Dan Sullivan running for lieutenant governor, which could addle some voters unsure of which Sullivan to vote for in which race.

Begich, who has carefully tended to Alaska’s needs anticipating a tough reelection, enters the general election slightly ahead of Treadwell and Sullivan in hypothetical head-to-head match ups and with a commanding lead over Miller. He will also likely benefit from a spate of third party candidates already on the ballot, including two Libertarians likely to draw votes from the GOP candidate.

The national winds run against Begich these midterms. Six in ten Alaskan voters disapprove of President Barack Obama, to whom Republicans are tying Begich. “Mark Begich has been a champion for [Obama’s] agenda in the Senate, voting with him a staggering 97% of the time leaving even Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders—94% of the time—in the dust,” says Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate. “Think about that, Mark Begich votes with President Obama more than socialist Bernie Sanders no matter the issue—costly energy taxes, spending increases, and of course, Obamacare.”

Every race is local, though, and given GOP infighting and Begich’s surprising polling resilience, most independent observers rate this seat as lean Democratic.

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