Republican groups attack Mark Begich, without mentioning Obama. Or Obamacare.

August 21, 2014

Two conservative groups just hit the airwaves in Alaska with TV ads attacking Sen. Mark Begich (D). Something you won't find in either commercial: Any mention of President Obama -- or Obamacare.

The ads from the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity and Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS, released Thursday, focus on pay for women and Begich's attendance record in the Senate. It's a striking strategy in an election year when the vast majority of Republican attack ads have sought to link Democrats to the unpopular president and his polices.

The AFP ad, which is backed by more than $1 million, goes after Begich for missing more votes in than "80 percent" of other senators. The Crossroads ad, which runs through Sept. 3 and is backed by nearly $1.3 million, says women on Begich's staff make on average "$23,000 less" than men.

The spots are the first TV attack ads Begich has faced since Tuesday's primary, when he easily won the Democratic nomination. Former attorney general Dan Sullivan claimed the Republican nomination, defeating tea party activist Joe Miller by about 8 points.

"If they [sic] Koch brothers cared about Alaska they wouldn't have raised taxes on the community of North Pole and fired 80 Alaskans by closing the Flint Hills refinery," responded Begich spokesman Max Croes, in an e-mail. "They're showing they don't care about Alaska or Alaska's interests by spending millions on false and misleading attack ads at the same time they're laying off Alaska workers."

Both AFP and American Crossroads, a super PAC affiliated with Crossroads GPS, have run ads linking Begich to Obama before. They will probably do it again. But the latest round of ads says two things -- one about Alaska and one about the midterms more broadly.

In Alaska, where Obama is deeply unpopular, Begich has been running a hyper-local campaign, emphasizing his deep roots in the state and his record on parochial issues. Republicans are trying to beat him at his own game by zeroing in on narrow matters and very specific parts of his record.

Nationally, the new ads are yet another signal that Obamacare -- which a few months ago was the singular focus of Republican groups and the dominant concern of nervous Democrats -- may not be packing the punch some expected it to in the campaign homestretch. At the least, it's an acknowledgement that the Republican playbook needs to consist of more than just health care attacks if the GOP is going to win back control of the Senate in the midterms.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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