"I decided to go ahead and do Put Alaska First, and the Senate Majority PAC folks, who I work very well with, said, 'No, no, you don't need to do that—just work for us, you can be our Alaska Sherpa, don't set up another group,' " Lottsfeldt said. "I said, 'No, I'm setting up another group, because at the end of the day I'm going to sign off on everything we do because you're from out of state.' "
Entrusting that kind of support to a local-level group is an anomaly for Reid's group. Indeed, Senate Majority PAC has actively persuaded its donors not to give to similar efforts in other states this cycle. Both parties agree that the decision to support Lottsfeldt hinged on his keen knowledge of Alaskan values, as well as a need to spend wisely in a state with a complex population density.
"We don't have as much money as the Koch brothers "... so we have to make sure we're as effective and efficient as possible," said Senate Majority PAC spokesman Ty Matsdorf. "Jim has an unparalleled knowledge of the Alaska political landscape: what plays well there, and what's important to people on the ground."
Lottsfeldt also pointed to Senate Majority PAC cofounder Rebecca Lambe, who is from the state, suggesting she knew how important authenticity was in Alaska.
"You can always tell when the D.C. folks are here; all you have to do is look at their shoes," Lottsfeldt joked. "When outside people come up to run campaigns "... there's just a lot of resentment on behalf of the local people. Whether it's pronouncing Val-deez instead of calling it Val-dez, or making sure that we film every ad in Alaska with real Alaskans "... my job is to make sure this is grounded on Alaska issues."
The authenticity factor has challenged the groups supporting Sullivan. One of the early Americans for Prosperity ads backfired when it was revealed it was filmed in Maryland. Others received criticism from Republicans in the state for focusing too much on national issues, which they say doesn't resonate in Alaska. Meanwhile, Democrats have hammered away at Sullivan on hyper-local topics such as an Alaskan land-use bill that was opposed by hunters and fishers.
That disconnect frustrates Hackney, who has been running campaigns in the state for more than three decades. Hackney is currently advising American Crossroads in the state, but says millions of outside dollars are being thrown away by groups that don't understand Alaska.
"I'm frustrated with groups like Americans for Prosperity coming in and running the same ads they'd run in other states—that kind of thing doesn't fly in Alaska," said Hackney. "Neither does battering away with a million and a half dollars talking about a carbon tax. I know most of the doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs in Alaska and they don't even think about a carbon tax."
So Hackney is taking a page out of Lottsfeldt's book and starting his own super PAC called Alaska's Energy, America's Values, to support Sullivan. He's hoping that if Sullivan is successful in the primary next Tuesday, he can get Republican donors to give him the same trust Democrats have given Lottsfeldt.