ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sen. Mark Begich might be facing attacks from Republicans over his degree of support for President Obama's policies, but he didn't dodge Wednesday when asked whether he personally voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
"I did, but that's irrelevant," Begich, the Democratic incumbent from Alaska, told the Washington Examiner. "The president's not relevant. He's gone in two years."
Begich faces an existential threat from Republican Dan Sullivan in one of the pivotal Senate races this year, which could determine control of the Senate.
Sullivan and allied groups have hammered Begich for his ties to the president and for supporting the vast majority of Obama's policies that have come to a vote in the Senate.
Begich has emphasized that that measure includes many smaller votes, including nominations, and therefore is not a true reflection of his partisanship.
"Where I disagree with Obama is many places," Begich said. "Obama tried to take away our F-16s in Fairbanks. I disagreed with him. He wanted to fund the rebels in Syria. I disagreed with him. He wanted to do the gun control bill. I disagreed with him."
The issue of his support for President Obama is perhaps the greatest political hazard facing Begich — and a particularly potent one in Alaska, where a recent CNN/ORC poll showed only 33 percent of likely voters approve of the president's work.
In other competitive Senate races, Democrats have opted not to discuss whether they voted for the president. In Kentucky, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has repeatedly refused to say whether she supported the president at the ballot box.
But Begich was candid, if frustrated to have to answer the question, explaining: "Some senators don’t want to respond to that. I don’t know, that’s their decision, not mine."
"I've disagreed plenty with Obama, but that's not an issue to me," Begich said. "It's where we are today, it's the next six years. He's gone in two. Whoever's the next U.S. senator will be dealing with a new president. That's the bottom line."
Even so, Begich was realistic, and he said he expects Sullivan will pose the question in a public forum.
"Whoa, that’s a good policy discussion!" Begich joked. "I’m not interested. I’ll answer it and move on."
"But I will remind him, if he brings up the question," Begich added, "I’ll look at him very politely and explain to him that, you know what, your campaign’s all been about what Obama’s done. I want to know what you’re going to do for Alaska, because I can tell you what I’ve done. ...You’re living in the past, and it can’t be all about national issues. People care about Alaska issues."