Fifteen percent of candidates running in the Alaska primary are named Dan Sullivan

This post has been updated.

For primary candidates, it's essential to help voters differentiate between you and a pool of people with similar ideological underpinnings and policy ideas. If you are running in Alaska this year, it is also essential to help voters differentiate between you and the other GOP candidate named Dan Sullivan. And yes, this is a problem that exists.


Here is a candidate whose name is not Dan Sullivan. (It's Mark Begich.) (Photo by Richard J. Murphy for The Washington Post)

Fifteen percent of the candidates running for statewide office in Alaska's Aug. 19 primary are named Dan Sullivan, as reported by the Alaska Dispatch last week. It's Alaska, so that only means two out of 14 total candidates, but people are still getting confused. The two candidates aren't helping out either; they will both appear as "Dan Sullivan," no Daniels or middle initial, on the ballot. However, to their credit, they decided to run in different races, rescuing voters a bit.

In the state's Senate race, former Alaska attorney general Dan Sullivan is the front-runner in the Republican primary to face Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska). In the lieutenant governor's race, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is expected to win without much competition.

Polling has shown that there are definitely people who have mixed up the two. This group of people includes the local media, which has published articles on Senate candidate Dan Sullivan accessorized with photos of lieutenant governor candidate Dan Sullivan. However, the constant TV ads might be clearing the confusion, according to an unscientific survey conducted by the Alaska Dispatch:

An informal canvass in midtown and downtown Anchorage this week suggested that the Senate campaign ads -- some of which have tried to label Sullivan an Outsider because of his ties to Washington, D.C., and Ohio -- have raised his profile. But some people remained uncertain about each Sullivan’s biographical details.

Presented with photos of both, Mary Jo Burns, an Anchorage resident, gazed at the Senate candidate and said: “They say he’s not an Alaskan.”

Asked which one was running for Senate, she responded: “They both are.”

“Well, I know he is,” she added, looking at the former commissioner.

Out of 20 Alaskans interviewed, 15 correctly picked the photo of the former commissioner as the Sullivan running for Senate -- though to be fair, one of those 20 was Gov. Sean Parnell, Sullivan’s former boss, who was caught as he left a midtown restaurant.

“I think voters are smart enough to figure it out,” Parnell said. “You’ve got to trust the voters.”

This isn't the first time similarly named political hopefuls have caused voters to stumble.

Last year, Detroit mayoral candidate Mike Duggan had to run as a write-in candidate after he was kicked off the ballot in a residency dispute. Mike Dugeon also entered the race as a write-in candidate. Dugeon, by the way, is pronounced "Duggan."

When journalist Charlie LeDuff -- who kind of gave Dugeon the idea to run -- asked Dugeon what his platform was, the write-in candidate, a 30-year-old barber who had never voted, replied, "I'll fix everything." Oh, and free rent.

Fox 2 News Headlines

Mike Duggan won the race, undeterred by bad spellers or confused voters.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will face Jeremy Ryan is the upcoming Republican primary in Wisconsin. The state Republican Party tried to get him off the ballot, citing his companion on expeditions to gather signatures, a poster that read, "Sign Here, Legalize Marijuana." The state election board let Jeremy stay on the ballot.

Jeremy Ryan is best known in Wisconsin for protesting Republican Gov. Scott Walker and riding a Segwey. And yes, he is mostly running because his last name is Ryan. His campaign Web site is www.therightryan.com.

In the 2003 gubernatorial race in California, George B. Schwartzman, a businessman heard of by pretty much no one, managed to come in ninth place with 10,945 votes. The winner of the election was the similarly named Arnold Schwarzenegger. A total of 135 candidates ran in the gubernatorial election, including Edward Kennedy, John Burton and a guy who campaigned as Steve Irwin, Australian accent and all. 

New York City elections have seen many seasoned elected officials challenged by someone with their name, if not their credentials. Rep. José E. Serrano campaigned against Jose Serrano, John C. Liu has defeated Jay C. Liu, Assemblyman Vito Lopez faced Victor Lopez and Councilman Jose Rivera found an opponent in Jose L. Rivera.

Rivera told the New York Times in 2004''To me, it is politics at its worst. 'It's just part of what makes people think of politics as a dirty game. So far it hasn't worked. And I hope it never will.''

Luckily for Alaska's Dans Sullivan, they won't face off against each other.

However, neither of them has locked down the Dan Sullivan vote. As the Dispatch reported, the Begich campaign thinks they have won the support of two other Dan Sullivans who happen to live in Alaska. The Sullivan Senate campaign was unaware of any supporters named Mark Begich.

Correction: This post originally listed the date of Alaska's primary as August 26, not the 19th.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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