Incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and his Republican opponent Dan Sullivan both found time for campaign events in Juneau this week. But they won't be seeing each other, much to the consternation of two local groups that had tried to coordinate a forum and a debate featuring both candidates.
The campaign for Sullivan, the state's former attorney general and Natural Resources commissioner, didn't respond to inquiries from the Alaska Native Brotherhood, which held a meet-and-greet session with Begich on Tuesday rather than the head-to-head debate the group wanted.
"They did not return our phone call," said Peter Naoroz, the brotherhood's second grand vice president. "I don't know if that's a glitch on their part."
Begich's campaign, meanwhile, couldn't work out a date for a forum with the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, which is holding a luncheon Thursday with Sullivan.
"His schedule is just so full that he couldn't squeeze one in for a Thursday for Juneau, which is unfortunate," said Cathie Roemmich, the chamber's CEO. "I know he tried hard, and I know he's a busy guy."
In the two weeks since Sullivan won the Republican Party's primary, the candidates have already met for one debate, held last week in Anchorage and organized by a right-leaning coalition of libertarian and conservative groups.
But there's no shortage of audiences still clamoring for the candidates' attention before Election Day on Nov. 4. Begich has committed to 11 more events, hosted by groups like the AARP, the Resource Development Council and the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce.
Sullivan is still confirming his own debate schedule, said spokesman Mike Anderson.
Asked where Sullivan and Begich would be instead of the Juneau events they were missing, spokesmen for both candidates first responded by asking where the opposing candidate would be during the events when their own candidates were present.
A spokesman for Begich, Max Croes, later said the senator was flying back to Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Anderson said Sullivan spent Tuesday in Anchorage meeting with various groups, including the city police union and members of the medical community.
Each campaign released its own prepared statement blasting the opposing candidate for skipping the respective Juneau events.
In a statement sent Wednesday, Sullivan's campaign said Begich's absence from Thursday's luncheon amounted to giving Juneau "the silent treatment" and "hiding behind his staff" to avoid a controversy over a recent television ad.
"While Dan Sullivan highlights his record of accomplishments for Alaska and his vision for moving the country forward, Mark Begich will clearly do anything to avoid talking about his failure to represent Alaska's interests," the statement quoted Anderson as saying.
Croes shot back that Begich had been in Juneau on Tuesday and "is ready to have a conversation" with Sullivan.
In its own press release, Begich's campaign said that by missing Tuesday's event, which would have focused on Alaska Native issues, Sullivan "continues to hide from his record of undermining tribal sovereignty and subsistence rights."
"Alaskans are suspicious of Dan Sullivan's refusal to participate in a debate hosted by a prominent Alaska Native organization," the release quoted Croes as saying. "This is another example of Dan Sullivan's refusal to be accountable and accessible to Alaskans, the very people he's campaigning to represent."
Anderson responded that Sullivan has "a strong record, both as attorney general and Dept. of Natural Resources commissioner, with regards to Alaska Native and rural Alaska issues."
Anderson added that Sullivan participated in a rural affairs debate on public radio before last month's Republican Party primary, and in a forum hosted by the Alaska Native Village CEO Association.