PETERSBURG, Alaska (AP) — When U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and his Republican challenger, Dan Sullivan, greet cheering supporters in downtown Anchorage on Election Night, their thoughts may turn to days of boots-on-the-ground campaigning in more unforgiving and far-flung parts of this remote and rugged state.
Many observers believe the race between Begich and Sullivan, which could decide control of the U.S. Senate, may have been decided weeks or months ago when the candidates campaigned in bush communities well off Alaska's limited road system, places like the nation's northernmost town of Barrow, the quaint fishing village of Petersburg, or the tundra community of Bethel in the southwest part of the state.
Both candidates made early October campaign stops in Petersburg, a town of 3,000 on Alaska's Inside Passage that was settled by Norwegian fishermen in an area long used by Tlingit natives for hunting and fishing.
The town, like many in Alaska — a state twice the size of Texas — is only reachable by ferry or plane.
Officially, Sullivan and Begich came to the town to speak to the annual Grand Camp gathering of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood, but they also took time to meet voters at a coffee shop, the Elks Lodge, a cancer-awareness run and a bar near the harbor to play pool.
"This election, the whole country is watching, because what happens in the Senate election in Alaska is likely going to determine the direction of the county," Sullivan told supporters gathered at the coffee shop the morning before he got on a plane to fly more than 1,000 miles north from Petersburg to Barrow.
Begich, a Democrat seeking his second term, stressed why he spends time in Petersburg and other remote towns.
"The rural communities are very important, because lots of times I think candidates ignore them," Begich said before going to bed around midnight after a full day of campaigning in Petersburg. "People want to touch and feel your campaign and who you are."