JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Television ads in Alaska's U.S. Senate race have been pulled by the two major party candidates after complaints from the family of two slaying victims.
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, began airing an ad last week trying to portray his Republican opponent, former Alaska Attorney General Dan Sullivan, as soft on crime. The ad featured a man identified as a former Anchorage police officer standing outside the home where an elderly couple was beaten to death and a family member sexually abused in 2013. It ended with the man saying Sullivan should not be a senator.
Sullivan swiftly responded with an ad of his own, accusing Begich of trying to use the case for political gain. Begich's ad did not name the suspect in the crimes, Jerry Active, but Sullivan's commercial did, with Sullivan saying he "personally put criminals away for life, and that's exactly where Jerry Active belongs."
Active is scheduled to stand trial later this month. Sullivan's campaign manager, Ben Sparks, said the response was necessary to counter Begich's "desperate" attack.
Alaska's Senate race has national implications, with Republicans seeing Begich as vulnerable as they strive to pick up six seats to gain control of the chamber. The ads also had a harder edge than others featured in the race so far.
An attorney for the victims' families, Bryon Collins, asked that the ads be withdrawn. Sullivan's campaign on Sunday called for TV stations to remove its ad, while a Begich spokesman, Max Croes, said the campaign would modify its ad to eliminate "any potential reference to the pending criminal case."
Croes said in the same statement that Sullivan "recklessly featured a name from a pending court case in a television ad, as an attorney and former attorney general he should have known better. His TV ad very clearly needed to be pulled from the air."
But Collins, in a letter to the campaigns Monday, accused Begich's campaign of "tearing this family apart" to the point they want to leave the state.
"Again, to be perfectly clear, it was your ad that shocked them," Collins wrote.
Begich's campaign made a formal request to TV stations Monday to stop airing the ad. However, given it was Labor Day, the ads from both campaigns were seen that day.
The families' attorney said he confirmed Tuesday that the ads were down.
Begich, following an event in Juneau, said Sullivan had a "pattern when he was attorney general of doing these plea deals that let violent offenders, sexual offenders out earlier than they should be."
Sullivan has defended his work as attorney general, saying he secured tougher sentences for violent criminals and moved to crack down on domestic violence and sexual assault.
He was appointed attorney general in June 2009, a position he held until late 2010. Begich's campaign said Sullivan's name appeared on a 2010 plea agreement with Active. It provided a link to a charging document with Sullivan's name but signed by another prosecutor. Sullivan's camp said a law enforcement report, predating his time as attorney general, failed to include a prior felony conviction for Active, which affected his sentencing in a 2010 case.
The Department of Law, which is overseen by the attorney general, says the plea deal "may have been incorrect and not consistent with the law." It says the department, judge and the Department of Corrections failed to identify the prior felony conviction before sentencing and noted the faulty law enforcement report.
Attorney General Michael Geraghty, in a statement released by Sullivan's campaign, said the Begich ad attempting to hold Sullivan responsible for the 2013 crime "has no basis in fact."
Geraghty told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he changed the plea bargain policy for more serious offenses but that he had not heard from prosecutors the kinds of claims Begich was making.