ANCHORAGE — Appearing at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention is an annual rite for Alaskan politicians, but this year’s high-stakes race for U.S. Senate supercharged the meeting, packing a ballroom on Friday with hundreds at the state’s largest Alaska Native gathering.

The incumbent, Mark Begich, a rare successful Alaska Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Dan Sullivan, a former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner, sat on either side of the stage moments before their candidates’ forum, looking out at a roomful of Alaska Natives. Alaska, which is roughly 20 percent Native, has the largest per capita indigenous population in the U.S.

Polling before that day put Begich behind Sullivan, but even as the candidates sat on stage, reporters from various news outlets were tweeting about new numbers from several polls that showed Begich in the lead. That slight lead in some polls has since flipped in Sullivan’s favor, with pollsters agreeing the race remains very close.

In Alaska, especially for moderate or liberal candidates, the Native voting bloc has the power to tilt close elections. The community also has the potential to generate significant financial support, especially in the era of super PACs. Read more here.