On Thursday night, the three Republican Senate candidates—Joe Miller, Mead Treadwell, and Dan Sullivan—took to the stage for the first primary debate that featured all three. The lead-up to the debate was not without drama, which culminated with the former chair of the Republican Party, Randy Ruedrich, filing a complaint with APOC against the Anchorage Women’s Republican Club, which organized it.
But all that drama, as these things do, fell away as the candidates stepped on stage, where for two hours–without a break–they answered questions from the organizers, the audience, and each other about the economy, foreign policy, government overreach, gun rights, gay marriage, fisheries, oil taxes, the natural gas pipeline, and lots more.
Miller and Treadwell have run before, and although his profile as a political figure is less than Miller’s, Treadwell’s been around so long—40 years, he never misses an opportunity to say—that he’s familiar to many. This was Sullivan’s first time in a debate as a candidate, however, and it was likely the first time many Alaskans had seen him outside of the television screens.
How’d he do? It’s probably safe to say that he didn’t damage himself and he probably did better—was more articulate and more statesman-like than many expected. Because he’s the front runner, he took the most hits from both of the other candidates, some of which landed, some of which didn’t.
Although Sullivan was at the center of the debate, both literally and figuratively, Miller, as has been the case since he showed up on the political scene in 2010, was the most impassioned and the most articulate of the three, and seemed to get the best of Sullivan on a few occasions. He even went as far as to lean over and pat Sullivan on the shoulder during a particularly tense moment. Treadwell brought the most knowledge of Alaska to the debate, and obviously had the most vitriol towards Sullivan, but at times he seemed to fade into the background.
If the polls are any indication, Miler is still too radical and too damaged from his 2010 campaign against Sen. Lisa Murkowski for the Alaska public. Too, he’s nothing like warm. Nor is he ambiguous. He wants to impeach the president, and abolish the IRS and the EPA, for starters. But as he said in his closing remarks, “You know what I’m going to do and when I say it I mean it.”
Here’s a few issues that stuck out:
Gay marriage: Miller opposes it. Treadwell said he swore to defend the Alaska Constitution, but thinks it is a sacrament that should be left up to the churches, and Sullivan said that he supports the state’s Constitution, which defines marriage between a man and a women, and seemed to say that the issue should be left up to the states.
Foreign policy: The question was asked if the candidates would take a more aggressive or a more libertarian stance on foreign policy. Sullivan, who was an assistant secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and worked at the Security Council, appeared to favor the later. Treadwell said that he favored an Alaska foreign policy that brought the country to it. And Miller clearly held the more libertarian view, echoing Ron Paul’s ideas on rejecting nation building. “Nation building has been a failure,” Miller said.
Gun rights: Miller asked Sullivan where he stood on Stand Your Ground legislation. This is a tricky one for Sullivan, and has been the source of a widespread whisper campaign in Republican circles about Sullivan being soft on guns. The whispering has its roots in legislation that was offered by Rep. Mark Neuman in 2010 that was poorly worded and confusing. While Sullivan was Attorney General, an assistant AG wrote at the time that it might conflict with other laws, and could be dangerous as written. Neuman worked with the Department of Law and the bill was passed in 2013.
Outside money: The piles of money going into Sullivan’s campaign has been the source of attacks against Sullivan by Treadwell, Miller and the Democrats. For one of his allotted questions, Sullivan asked Treadwell why he was so critical of that money, given that Treadwell had taken numerous trips in 2013 to try to raise money–“on state time”–from the very same groups that are now giving to Sullivan, Treadwell skirted the question, and continued to attack the outside money. He also said that he followed the “letter of the law” on all his trips. For his part, Miller said that he was less worried about where the money was coming from geographically, but rather who was giving it. “You aren’t going to have people like Karl Rove backing Sullivan if they didn’t believe he wasn’t with him…” Miller said.
I’ll have more tomorrow as more reactions come in. For now, here’s some excerpts from press releases that came after the debate and some tweets during:
From the Alaska Chapter of NOW:
The debate featured two of three candidates who tout their long experience serving in the military as qualification for office. Yet neither man, Joe Miller nor Dan Sullivan, had any questions or comments regarding their experience with the decades-long epidemic of military sexual assault nationwide, whether or not they would support passage of legislation that would remove military sexual assault prosecution from the chain of command, or, as Alaska’s Attorney General, Dan Sullivan’s own involvement or lack thereof in Governor Parnell’s Alaska National Guard sexual assault investigation scandal.
From Sullivan’s spokesperson Mike Anderson:
Dan was the clear winner of tonight’s debate and demonstrated why he is the clear choice to take on Mark Begich in November. He proved that he is the only candidate in this race with either the record or the vision to tackle the big issues affecting Alaska, which Mark Begich has failed to do. Mead Treadwell did nothing but take a page out of Mark Begich’s playbook by pushing the same tired, false attacks that only distract from the real issues in this race.
From Begich’s campaign spokesperson Max Croes:
Alaskans were no doubt disappointed that Karl Rove and the Koch brothers skipped tonight’s Senate debate, especially after the millions they have spent trying to buy a voice in the election and outright purchase Alaska’s senate seat. But their lack of attendance can’t hide their special interest agenda.
— Matt Buxton (@FDNMPolitics) June 27, 2014
Miller attacks Sullivan: “what we don’t need is someone who claims to be a fighter but behind them is funded by Karl Rove.”
— Nat Herz (@Nat_Herz) June 27, 2014
— Matt Buxton (@FDNMPolitics) June 27, 2014
— Samuel A. Moore (@SamuelMoore) June 27, 2014
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