Except for a few heated exchanges between Joe Miller and Mead Treadwell, which spilled over onto twitter (see below), the GOP Senate candidates pretty much stuck to their already-public statements on women’s rights and gay marriage at the “social issues” forum on Monday afternoon. The forum was sponsored by the Alaska Family Action, the political arm of the Alaska Family Council.
In advance of the event, the candidates filled out a survey that outlined their position on social issues. All of them are against gay marriage and all of them are pro-life and want to see abortion outlawed in most cases. And as expected, all of them verbalized support for the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision. Treadwell said he was “disgusted” by a bill that both Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski voted to advance in the Senate, which would have undone the Hobby Lobby decision. Both Miller and Treadwell also talked about impeaching “activist” federal judges, a discussion that Sullivan kept out of.
None of these positions are likely to hurt any of the three candidates in the Republican primary. It gets trickier in the general, however. There hasn’t been any recent public polling on these issues, so it’s hard to know for sure where most Alaskans stand. But Begich’s campaign has been going after both Treadwell and Sullivan in online ads, claiming that the both are too extreme for Alaska. Begich has some of the best pollsters in the business, so that’s probably as good of a barometer as anything.
In any case, Sullivan–as the front-runner who has tried to keep these issues on the back burner–had the most to lose on Monday. And though he didn’t exactly win the crowd, he didn’t appear to alienate them much as a block either. Treadwell, who has been polling second, had the most to gain. Since the race began, he’s been going after this block of conservatives, as he did with success in his 2010 lieutenant governor’s race.
However, it’s unclear if going after Miller himself is the best strategy. Political consultant Marc Hellenthal called it a “head scratcher.”
Early in the debate, Miler brought up U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the fact that both his opponents supported her in 2010. Treadwell pounced. “Joe, many people looked at your record, looked at Lisa Murkowski’s record and chose,” he said.
He also said that Miller isn’t the “litmus test of conservatism in this state.” Tell that to Miller supporters. Judging from the vibe and the applause lines, this was Miller’s crowd, however small of a slice of the electorate it is. And though he’s always better at forums and at debates than his reputation would have you believe, he was particularly good on Monday.
Somehow, Miller was able to marry firebrand conservative with compassionate Christian with constitutional scholar, and the crowd ate it up. The loudest applause line of the event went to Miller for going after Treadwell for declining to certify a 2010 citizen initiative that would have outlawed abortion. Treadwell, who as lieutenant governor is charged with such certifications, said that he declined to do so because it wouldn’t pass muster with the courts.
“Joe, you can’t criticize people for following the law. We followed the law,” Treadwell said, in response to Miller’s criticism.
Cue Miller’s red meat retort: “We’ve heard that argument before: I was just following orders. Do you take an oath to Constitution or to Supreme Court, Mead?”
It’s that line that won Krissy Spohn over to Miller’s side. Spohn in an artist who lives in Palmer. She is 23 years old. She’s a Christian conservative first-time voter. Her brother supports Sullivan, and her father supports Miller.
She went to the forum, the first of such events that she has ever gone to, to make up her own mind.
When she walked in the door, she was leaning towards Sullivan, because she thinks he has the best chance to beat Begich. When she walked out, she was leaning toward Miller.
“I was surprised. I knew about him and I knew from other people what he stood for and I knew that I agreed with him. I just didn’t know that he could speak so well,” she said.
She said Miller might have convinced her to vote with her heart and her conscience.
“I know what’s right,” she said.
Here are some tweets from the debate. Sullivan’s campaign didn’t tweet the event.
Mead: “As your Senator, I will stand for religious liberty. Ours is a nation of morals, and religion must be in the public sphere.” #aksen
— Treadwell for Senate (@Mead_Treadwell) August 4, 2014
Miller: I think we are sick and tired of the status quo. Need the courage to talk about impeachment of judges and the President. — Joe Miller (@JoeWMiller) August 4, 2014 MT to Miller: “Joe, you are not the litmus test of conservatism in this state.” #aksen #LeadWithMead — Treadwell for Senate (@Mead_Treadwell) August 4, 2014
LIVE: Treadwell says he “went to bat” against women’s rights multiple times in the recent past. True. Also not a great metaphor. #aksen
— Alaska Democrats (@AlaskaDemocrats) August 4, 2014
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org