WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A political consultant who works for the firm that produced the TV commercials for Democratic Sen. Mark Begich's losing re-election effort offered a new perspective Tuesday on the most controversial ad of the campaign, an attack on Republican candidate Dan Sullivan.
The consultant, Jim Duffy, did not work on Begich's campaign directly, but he's one of three listed partners at Begich's ad firm, Putnam Partners, along with Mark Putnam, a strategist who was born and raised in Anchorage and produced some much-lauded commercials on Begich's behalf.
At the conference, hosted by the American Press Institute in Washington, Duffy downplayed the impact of the controversial ad, which claimed that Sullivan had given short sentences to sex offenders when he was Alaska's attorney general -- including one for a man who was later charged with killing two elderly Anchorage residents and sexually assaulting their granddaughter.
The ad was widely criticized and slapped with a "pants on fire" rating from the fact-checking website PolitiFact, and Begich eventually pulled it from the airwaves. Some observers called it a turning point in the campaign.
But Duffy argued at the conference Tuesday that the reason Begich ultimately lost the election was because of Alaska's partisan makeup -- there are twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats, though there are more undeclared voters than those who have registered with the two parties combined.
"Let me say this: In the end, we lose by, what, 6,500 votes?" Duffy said. (The final margin was 6,014, or about 2 percent.) "From polling Day One, that's where the race was. It was always going to be close. The state was always going to be Republican."
Duffy then referred to Begich's election to the U.S. Senate in 2008 -- just after incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Stevens had been found guilty of federal corruption charges. Begich, Duffy said, "had gotten elected the first time not because we did anything right."
"It was because one guy got tried and found convicted, and that's the only reason Begich was there," Duffy said. "There's so much attention paid to political ads. But in reality, they don't really, in many cases, have a lot to do with the outcome."
Duffy added that what made the ad controversial was criticism from the victims' family -- not the factual content.
"I'm not defending us -- we were part of the campaign. It made a mistake," he said. "We didn't know the family didn't approve."
In a prepared statement, Putnam said: "My partner, God love him, had no involvement in the senator's campaigns and I do not share his views of what happened in 2008 or 2014."
Alaska Dispatch Publishing