Alaska’s two leading U.S. Senate candidates met in a televised debate Oct. 26. hoping to win votes in a race that promises to be a fight to the finish.
Moderator John Tracy, news director and anchor for KTUU-TV, questioned former Gov. Tony Knowles about the nepotism issue that has followed U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
“I didn’t make nepotism an issue in this campaign, Frank Murkowski did when he appointed his daughter, and Lisa Murkowski did when she accepted that appointment,” Knowles said.
Murkowski said she doesn’t hide from the fact that her father appointed her to his former seat.
“I didn’t ask Alaskans to accept that or get over it,” Murkowski said. “What I’ve asked is that Alaskans look at the job I’m doing in the U.S. Senate.”
Both candidates mentioned the importance of opening ANWR and the natural gas pipeline, and each agreed that fully funding troops serving in Iraq is essential.
“What we need to do in this country is make sure that the men and women that are fighting for us have all that they need,” Murkowski said. “We cannot short-change them on that.”
Knowles retorted by saying, as a Vietnam veteran, he would support the U.S. troops in Iraq and demand they get every bit of equipment and additional personnel needed to ensure their safety as they pursue their mission.
Murkowski echoed recent advertisements of her campaign when she referred to the “team” of herself, Sen. Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young. She asked Knowles whose team he would be on.
“I’m going to be on Alaska’s team,” replied Knowles to audience applause.
UAA junior Tom Lassen supports Knowles.
“He sued Clinton more times than any other governor. He’s willing to fight his own party for Alaskan issues,” Lassen said. “I think that’s great.”
Senior economics major Jason Wilson was not convinced.
“Tony Knowles is skilled at propaganda,” Wilson said. “He’s able to play upon the public’s emotions from instances in the past that were unfavorable to the state’s history and that hold negative views in the public eye.”
Audience members were divided as they cheered the statements the candidates made throughout the debate.
Tracy, who prior to starting asked the audience to “fight the compulsion to yell and scream,” was not impressed.
“Don’t make me come out there,” he joked.
The UAA Speech and Debate Team presented each audience member a Senatorial Debate Ballot to record their opinions on who won the debate. Twenty-five percent of the ballots were turned in, with 141 votes for Knowles and 52 for Murkowski in the unscientific poll.
Steven Johnson, director of forensics and head coach of the Seawolf Speech and Debate Team, said he was frustrated the discussions of significant and important policy issues were reduced to one-minute answers.
“It is effectively telling the electorate ‘You’re not capable of understanding these issues,’” Johnson said. “I don’t think people realize the full impact that this deterioration of discussion is having on us. The debates and the campaign become more about winning around a cult of personality than about making sound policy decisions that will guide our futures.”