In the first stage test for the three leading Republicans hoping to push Mark Begich out of the U.S. Senate, one passed up the opportunity and the other two came out strong -- just not against each other.
The candidate forum for Republican Senate candidates on Monday at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce featured Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, both of whom had a lot to say about their families, resource development and what they could do for Alaska. The event at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center downtown was not a debate but rather a chance for candidates to introduce themselves and answer a few questions from Anchorage's business leaders. The luncheon crowd numbered close to 150.
Fairbanks lawyer Joe Miller, who won the GOP nomination in 2010 and then lost to Republican Lisa Murkowski in a write-in campaign, declined to attend. His campaign spokesman, Randy DeSoto, said the Miller camp got late notice of the forum, but chamber president Andrew Halcro said he sent a message through Miller's political website three weeks ago at the same time he contacted the other candidates and later left a detailed message for Miller's campaign treasurer. He said he never heard back until last week.
"I would have sold an extra 50 seats if Joe Miller would have been here," Halcro said after the forum. The chamber is nonpartisan and won't be endorsing any candidates, he said.
Sullivan and Treadwell only lightly jabbed at one another. Each claimed he had the superior track record of working for Alaska. Each attacked Begich and each tried to frame the race as a fight against the Democrats.
Treadwell, 57, has been in Alaska 40 years. He made Sullivan's residency an early issue and tugged at the theme again on Monday.
The year he got out of high school, Treadwell said, he recognized Alaska's "fantastic, tremendous potential" and has been working on state issues much of his adult life.
"I've had the chance to work with the chamber's military committee, on a very substantive policy issue," Treadwell said. He looked over at his competition. "Dan, this is before you were here."
Treadwell said he was part of a group that fought to bring a missile defense system to Alaska over opposition from the Clinton administration. "And we got that huge project built at Fort Greeley," he said.
Treadwell described himself as the only businessman in the race, though Begich, who managed his family's real estate, may take exception to that. One company that Treadwell helped found is Digimarc, which he said created "the world standard in copyright protection." He's made studying and promoting the Arctic part of his life's work and is a former chairman of the Arctic Research Commission.
His main campaign theme, he said, "is bring decision-making home." Alaska should get to develop its rich resources, he said. It can be trusted to do so in a way that protects the environment, said Treadwell, who was a deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation in the 1990s under then-Gov. Wally Hickel.
Sullivan, 49, shrugs off criticisms about his Alaska credentials. On Monday, he noted that he and his wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, were married in Fairbanks almost 20 years ago. They moved to Alaska in 1997 when he finished his initial active service in the Marines but he left in 2002 for political and military posts. He came back in 2009 to become then-Gov. Sarah Palin's attorney general.
"I became part of a wonderful, Interior Alaska family," Sullivan said. His in-laws are politically prominent. "Some of you may know Bud and Mary Jane Fate in Fairbanks," he said.
On the campaign trail someone asked him to describe himself in three words. He said he came up with family, service and results.
"One of the biggest problems we see in Washington is that we don't have people working to find real solutions -- press releases and endless talk at conferences masquerading for accomplishments," Sullivan said.
He pointed to accomplishments as attorney general and natural resources commissioner, including resolution of the long-running legal dispute with ExxonMobil over development of the giant Point Thomson gas field.
"Last winter on that multi-billion-dollar project there were 1,200 Alaskans working directly on Point Thomson. Over 30 Alaskan companies. That wasn't done through press releases. That was done through literally thousands of hours of getting things done," Sullivan said.
One audience member wanted to know their views on the prospect of the Environmental Protection Agency blocking the proposed Pebble mine before the project even goes through the regulatory process.
Begich recently came out against the mine, based on EPA's three-year study that it would pose a threat to Bristol Bay salmon. A commercial fishermen's group immediately began running ads thanking him for that.
Both Treadwell and Sullivan said Begich was wrong, and EPA should back off and let Pebble backers seek their development permits.
"We should have a senator who is telling the EPA that they can't do that," Sullivan said. "And we don't."
"I think Mark Begich made a huge mistake," Treadwell said. "Don't let him pull the wool over your eyes."
After the forum, the other Dan Sullivan -- Anchorage's mayor and a candidate for the lieutenant governor's job Treadwell is giving up -- said they both are good candidates and that he had contributed money to both.
"Covering my bases," the mayor said.
In his first quarter of fundraising, covering the last three months of 2013, Sullivan raised more than $1.2 million, his campaign said.
During the same period, the Treadwell campaign raised $228,000, but his campaign backers says that most of the money came from Alaskans.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.