- Associated Press - Thursday, August 7, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A debate among the three major Republican candidates for U.S. Senate on Thursday was a battle for rural cred.

During a rural affairs-centered debate hosted by the Alaska Public Radio Network, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, attorney and 2010 Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller and former state Natural Resources commissioner Dan Sullivan listed bush communities they had visited and weighed in on issues related to fisheries, voting rights, even honey buckets and outhouses.

Treadwell sought to distinguish himself from the others, noting such things as his work on Arctic and rural development issues over four decades in Alaska. Heading toward the Aug. 19 primary, Treadwell has been trying to position himself as the best informed GOP candidate on Alaska issues, saying that will be crucial to challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.

On Thursday, for example, when Miller said he was unfamiliar with a proposal that would allow Alaska Natives to put land in reservation-like trusts, Treadwell said he should get familiar.

Both Miller and Sullivan, who were participating in the debate from APRN member KUAC in Fairbanks, took jabs at Treadwell, who was at the network’s Anchorage studio. Miller suggested that Treadwell had not done enough as lieutenant governor to ensure the integrity of Alaska’s voting system. Sullivan said his career has been about “relentless action” and fighting against federal overreach - “not talking about it, not going to conferences, not saying we’ve studied something for 40 years.”

At an earlier point, when Sullivan used a similar line, Treadwell grinned and shook his head.

Treadwell said changes were made following the 2010 election, which Miller lost when Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski mounted a write-in campaign to keep her job. He said voting access has improved, with people now able to send in ballots electronically and expanded early voting locations this year.

Miller shared his experiences with the challenges of living in rural areas, saying he and his family rely on fish to fill their freezer and burn coal and wood to heat their Fairbanks home. Sullivan cited his efforts to bring state officials to rural communities, helping them better understand issues, when he served in Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration. He also noted his family’s deep roots in the state. His wife is from a prominent Alaska family.

All three candidates talked about the need for less federal regulation and heavy-handedness, particularly in the case of the Environmental Protection Agency.

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