Thursday’s debate between Republican hopefuls for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mark Begich was a meaningful kickoff to the body of the primary campaign that will be decided Aug. 19. As Alaskans are well aware, the race already has been underway for some time, but with the primary election now less than two months away, it’s clear that candidates Mead Treadwell, Dan Sullivan and Joe Miller are beginning to press harder. That pressure is being applied both to what the candidates see as the failings of Sen. Begich and to one another — after all, only one will survive to continue their campaign in the general election.
To that end, attendees at the debate Thursday evening at East Anchorage High School saw the candidates draw some of the sharpest contrasts yet made between themselves and their opponents. Some of those contrasts will be useful for voters who have yet to make up their minds, while others appeared to be pre-tested gotcha lines and red meat meant more to appeal to the party base than to set realistic goals.
One meaningful contrast that emerged was a pronounced difference in foreign policy vision between Mr. Miller and his opponents, particularly Mr. Sullivan. Mr. Miller told the crowd at the debate that he rejects the long-standing policy of nation building overseas by the U.S. military, saying that America has had little success in bringing freedoms like those enjoyed at home to other countries. Those statements run sharply counter to both Mr. Sullivan’s views and his résumé — he worked under Condoleezza Rice in the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and later served in President George W. Bush’s State Department as assistant secretary of state for energy, economics and business. His stance on policy reflects that service — he stated in the debate that he believes in American exceptionalism and sees the country’s overseas deployments as protecting others from tyranny.
Other moments at the debate, however, were less helpful for those looking for realistic policy goals. At one point, Mr. Miller cited the scrutiny of political groups by the Internal Revenue Service. He told attendees that the country should abolish not just the IRS but also income tax altogether. That scheme is not only politically unworkable but, if implemented, would have massive impacts on essential services like education, transportation, and national defense without other tax revenues to replace them. While Mr. Miller may well believe that the IRS should be reformed or eliminated, it would be more responsible to outline a plan by which the country’s business wouldn’t face an existential disruption rather than simply tapping into resentment of Washington, D.C., and its revenue collection efforts. And back-and-forth exchanges between Mr. Treadwell and Mr. Sullivan about who does more improper funding outside the state might make for a good attack ad, but we’d rather see substantive debate over campaign finance reform than one-liners meant to get quick applause.
There’s still a good amount of time left before the primary election, and several more debates between the candidates are scheduled to take place in that time. We’re optimistic that future events will see even more focus on substantive issues and less on “gotcha” moments.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,