EAGLE RIVER — It was a scrappier version of Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell who took the stage at a Republican U.S. Senate debate Monday, going toe-to-toe with Joe Miller at times, other times taking the brunt of Miller’s jabs at establishment Republicans along with Dan Sullivan.
For Treadwell, it was his chance to shine before conservative voters at the social issues debate hosted by the Alaska Family Council as he tries to woo voters from the tea party favorite Miller and from Sullivan, who has been perceived as the front-runner.
“We have a race right now,” said Treadwell following the 90-minute debate at the Community Covenant Church in Eagle River.
“I have a lot of supporters that voted for Joe Miller in 2010, and I have a lot of supporters who have told me they are deciding between me and Dan Sullivan, and I think you saw me contrasting with both,” he said.
Miller supporters stood at the doors and handed out their campaign literature to arriving guests; the fliers detailed where they say each candidate stands on the issues.
For “Amnesty for Illegals/Voter ID and Common Language,” the paper — which Treadwell referred to as a “bingo card” — said the lieutenant governor “supports amnesty for some illegal aliens and opposes voter ID.”
Treadwell said he doesn’t favor a free pass, rather a pathway.
“That means they pay a penalty and stand in line, that’s the pathway,” he said, adding: “Joe, I wish you would tell the truth.”
As Miller did several times in the debate, he tied Treadwell to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the GOP incumbent who lost to Miller in the 2010 Republican primary before coming back and winning the general election in a write-in campaign.
Miller has felt betrayed by the state party for not backing him after he beat Murkowski.
“Joe, many people looked at your record, looked at Lisa Murkowski’s record and chose,” Treadwell said.
Miller also took both Treadwell and Sullivan, a former attorney general, to task for turning down abortion-related initiatives in their respective state duties.
Sullivan said there is precedent from the Supreme Court that made the initiative seeking to outlaw all abortions in Alaska illegal.
“Was that a hard decision to make? Yeah,” Sullivan said in denying the initiative, adding he felt he had fidelity to the law when he was attorney general.
Sometimes, there are difficult decisions, he said. All three candidates oppose abortion with varying degrees of exemptions.
Treadwell said another initiative also seeking to ban abortions sent to his official office had to be rejected since it was worded directly against current law, as set by the state Supreme Court. He said if it were worded differently, there might be a way to move that initiative forward and challenged Miller to find a way to draft it.
“Joe, you just don’t criticize people for following the law,” Treadwell told him.
Miller retorted: “Well, we’ve heard that argument before. ‘I was just following orders,’” Miller said.
Any flare-ups going into the debate, which was held as early voting started for the Aug. 19 primary, were poised to have come from Sullivan and Treadwell.
Sullivan — who had said he would focus on Begich, rather than on tearing down his GOP rivals — sent out mailers that Treadwell called deceptive and false. One of the Sullivan mailers, pointed out to reporters by the state Democratic party, blasts Treadwell as hypocritical for serving on the board of a company that accepted federal stimulus money.
Treadwell has spoken in opposition to the stimulus. Treadwell, in a statement, said the board of Ellicott Dredges was not consulted on the company’s decision to compete in a shipyard assistance program that he said was partially paid for with stimulus funds.
Democrats have sought to seize upon the escalating rhetoric between the Republican candidates. Republicans are hoping to avoid a messy primary that could leave their eventual candidate weakened headed toward November.
Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is seeking re-election and faces only token opposition in the primary, from a man who lives in New York City.
Both Sullivan and Treadwell said they would work to bring Republicans together for the party if they lost the primary. But Miller said Republicans need someone with a demonstrated record of reform.
“If we just go ahead and elect or nominate a go-along-to-get-along Republican, I can assure you we’re going to lose this general election,” he said.
• Associated Press writer Becky Bohrer in Juneau contributed to this report.