Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska group backing independent candidate appears linked to Democrats Sullivan wins Alaska Senate GOP primary Alaska political mess has legislators divided over meeting place MORE (D-Alaska) and Republican Dan Sullivan sparred over the best way to respond to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)on Thursday night, with both saying they disagreed with President Obama — and each other.


Begich, one of the few vulnerable congressional Democrats who voted against a bill that authorized arming the moderate rebels in Syria to fight ISIS, called the situation in the Middle East a "quagmire" because of the "failed policies of the last administration" and accused Sullivan of being "gung ho to put troops on the ground again."

Sullivan, a Marine and former assistant secretary of State during the Bush administration, fired back. "Inaction has its own consequences," he said, accusing Begich of taking "options off the table" and saying he wouldn't admit that the pilots flying bombing missions against ISIS were "combat troops."

Sullivan didn't address whether or not he thought large numbers of American troops should be put back on the ground in Iraq, but suggested smaller numbers should be considered.

"If we need combat troops to protect personnel, to protect the embassy, to protect ambassadors like we didn't have in Benghazi, to protect pilots, I would be for it," he said.

Begich said he wasn't answering the question.

"The question is fundamental. Do you believe that we should put American troops back on the ground in a massive scale back in the Middle East? I don't," he said.

Military issues came up earlier in the debate as well, when Begich repeatedly pressed Sullivan to say whether or not he thought that military sexual assault cases should be taken outside the chain of command, which he believes is the solution. Sullivan repeatedly said he wanted "all the knowledge" available before taking a stance on the controversial issue, which has cut across party lines.

Early in the debate, Sullivan tweaked Begich for using Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Collins: President elected Nov. 3 should fill Supreme Court vacancy Barrett seen as a front-runner for Trump Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Alaska) in his ads. Murkowski has endorsed Sullivan and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Begich earlier in the campaign asking him to take down an ad that had a photo of them together.

Begich said at a recent debate she "didn't like the photo" but wasn't disputing that they'd voted together, leading to a sharp rebuke from Murkowski this week. This time it was his turn to dodge, as he said the ad is no longer running but refused to say why he didn't pull the ad down at her request.

Both sides see a tight race in Alaska. Sullivan's campaign shared its internal polling with The Hill on Thursday, finding it with a 4-point lead, while a Democratic poll released earlier this week found a tied race in the difficult-to-poll state.