Three GOP Senate hopefuls take to the stage for first debate

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.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


18 thoughts on “Three GOP Senate hopefuls take to the stage for first debate

  1. Albert

    Treadwell Backers continue to market this confusion.
    U S Senate Candidate Dan Sullivan has not been the mayor of any city including Anchorage

  2. Chris Lloyd

    Sullivan’s been a lousy mayor. I don’t understand why people think he’ll do any better for us in Washington.

  3. Jessie May

    I like Treadwell. He is charming in person, but I’m voting for Sullivan. He has kept our city from going under during the worst recession ever after Begich left. So many cities are in horrible situations because they didn’t keep their eyes on their books. If Dan Sullivan can do that for Anchorage, just think of what he can do for our state in D.C.!

  4. John Smith

    I thought that Joe Miller did the best job of articulating his message and his ideas. The only issue for me was that I disagreed with many of them.

    I thought that Dan Sillivan looked uncomfortable at times and should have been more aggressive with his opponents on several key issues, rather than just sitting back and taking the jabs. I hope that he comes out stronger next time.

    I thought Mead Treadwell came out strong and did a fairly good job articulating his points. The issue for me was that the only points he seemed to make were regarding how long he has lived in Alaska as compared to Dan Sullivan. In fact I didn’t hear any new ideas or get any indication that he has any fresh or bold ideas for the seat. He honestly, to me anyway, seemed mean. Part of me just wanted to stand up in the audience and say, “yeah, we get it Mead, you think you are better than the guy beating you because you have lived here longer. Move on.” The other thing that frustrated me was the number of times Mead kept mentioning that Dan never tried to work with him on issues within DNR. The only issue is that the DNR Commissioner doesn’t report to the Lt. Governor. Mead seems slighted on this when it comes to the Governor as well. Mead needs to learn a little humility I think. If he can do that, start talking about what he believes and wants to changes rather than how much longer he has lived here, I think he might convince me to vote for him. Right now though it is very frustrating to get past his anger.

    As far as a winner goes; Miller was more in control of his message and the crowd. Everyone else was playing catch up. I still don’t have enough common ground to vote for him though. At that pretty much sums up the only problem with debates.

  5. Ben Thomas

    Is Miller working for Treadwell!? Treadwell hasn’t fired a single aggressive shot at Danny-Boy. Joe on the other hand has been doing all the work; like calling Sully on his duplicitousness on Stand Your Ground.

  6. Joe Isaac

    Dan Sullivan’s whisper campaign against a Treadwell whisper campaign, that doesn’t exist, was one of the funniest parts of this debate.

  7. Rude Alaskan

    Why was ex-con, eh hem, EX CON Tom Anderson up on stage? Is he affiliated with the media company sponsor or the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club?

  8. Rick W.

    The debate didn’t offer any real surprises. It did however bring additional clarity to the race. As a Republican, my primary goal is to beat Begich. I thought that overall, Miller did the best job last evening. He was articulate, clearly had the courage of his convictions, was informed and offered a strong sense of confidence. He effectively interjected some humor into the forum as well. Unfortunately, as great as some of his ideas sound, they simply aren’t practical (like getting rid of the IRS) and the likelihood of his ability to effectively beat Begich is zero. Treadwell did the poorest of the three candidates. He looked old, tired and didn’t really offer anything except cliches and a few scripted pandering lines. I think Sullivan nailed it when he called Treadwell nothing more than a Republican Mark Begich justifying it by pointiing out his hypocrisy, no shame iin taking credit for things he had little to do with, and his negative derisions. I almost cracked up when Treadwell claimed credit for convincing President Reagan to list the natural gas export ban. I bet Ted Stevens (who never liked Treadwell) spun in his grave on that one and was a bit of surprise informmation to the rest of the congressional delegation at the time. Treadwell looked like someone’s confused grandfather on stage – – nice but ineffective. Sullivan wasn’t perfect by any means; however, he exceeded my expectations and will continue to do better. Sulliivan looked and sounded senatorial. Both Sullivan and Miller were vibrant candidates. Sullivan stayed on track and focused on criticizing Begich. II thinkonce again that Sullivan proved to be the only candidate that could beat Begich.

  9. Beth Fread

    After the debate I randomly asked people, “did you change your mind?” Every single one of them replied, “no.”

    So, my take is, you had to listen to the responses. For example, Mead Treadwell pointed out that Dan Sullivan’s “get ‘er done” attitude left a lot of opportunities for Alaska on the table when he didn’t reach out to folks (i.e., Mead) for additional options and alternatives.

    Both Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Miller, like many “decades long but not long enough” Alaskans, chose to scoff at the “not long enough” attitude apparently sung by Mr. Treadwell. Unfortunately, using that tune left the message Mr. Treadwell wanted to deliver, that the other two have a “Cliff’s Notes” understanding of the issues and are very adept at delivering 1/2-way solutions as well as what their voter-base wants to hear, was lost upon the audience.

    I’m not as impressed by belligerence as I am by well-considered opinions. I do not buy into the “we’ll shove it down their throats” attitudes that appear to be so admired on the left and right. I miss the well-considered dialogue between opposing ideas and ideals that were prevalent in my younger years. One of my major complaints against candidate Obama was that he never really said anything. Now we know why, what he wanted to say wouldn’t have flown.

    Similarly, the idea that you can join the Senate and have a major impact through “stand my ground” and “force them to listen” tactics, seems rather naive to me. But, I understand the need for campaign money and the ability to overcome Mr. Begich’s incumbency run. I’m on of the many super-voters who are still considering. My consideration is, do I go for the Statesman, or the military man who uses behind-the-scenes tactics to forestall the success of his opponents?

  10. Lynn Willis

    I was disappointed that issues such as Obamacare in Alaska were not addressed in detail. A lot of generalizations and slogans and a feeling the that the 17th Amendment (direct election of US Senators) is not working as intended because of outside money.
    The majority of Alaskan voters are not affiliated with a political party. They are register to vote as “non-partisan” or “undeclared”. Therefore, if the public is going to pay for the primary elections perhaps these primary debates should be mandated as frequently as possible. If a candidate or party doesn’t want to debate at these forums then they won’t be listed on the state funded ballot and that party can hold a convention or otherwise choose candidates for the general election at no cost to the public. All candidates, both independents and those affiliated with a party, who are eligible to appear on the primary ballot should be invited to participate.

  11. Garand Fellow

    This was not their first debate. The 3 debated in Juneau last month. Miller won that debate too.

    Sullivan remains the candidate most able to beat Begich. Afghan Dan is solid on gun control, and it’s kind of Ms. Coyne to put some light on how it is that Treadwell people claim Sullivan opposed stand your ground. Stand your ground is a component of the right to keep and bear arms.

    My belief is that the Begich campaign and Begich as a candidate for re-election looks weaker every day. The Obama presidency is in complete disarray, and Begich has backed a sick, lame horse. Begich sided with the Brady Campaign and Bloomberg for gun control before he pushed back against the Obama-Reid gun grab, and for that reason I don’t believe Begich can be trusted by Alaskans.

  12. mae

    Well not sure bout the rest of you, but I had a blast at the debate.
    My take away: two carpetbaggers and a treadmill going in reverse.

    Thanks republican women!

  13. YC

    Why didn’t you say anything about Treadwell’s performance? You evaluated the other two and provided positive comment. Like many, I thought Mead was outclassed by Miller and Sullivan.
    Mead’s performance, like his fund raising, left a lot to be desired.

  14. andy

    Tonight’s debate, despite its poor organization, came off well thanks to the quality of the 3 GGOP candidates. Miller took the evening and was closely followed by Sullivan. The pair of them were articulate and vibrant with real world answers. Treadwell looked like the old man, partially out of it and nothing much to offer that happened in this decade. He mumbled some senseless babble about how he was responsible for getting President Reagan to allow AK to export gas. How ridiculous. Treadwell was the only real loser of the evening.

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