Ad Controversy Roils Alaska Senate Race

(Mark Begich for U.S. Senate / CMAG)

The Alaska Senate race, a campaign that could be the tightest in the country, is getting very nasty.

The campaign of Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is coming under fire for running a political ad referencing a horrific Anchorage crime and continuing to run the commercial even after the victim's family asked the campaign to stop.

Begich opponents are calling it a Willie Horton style-ad, referring to the infamous 1988 ad, which linked Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis to the furlough release of a convicted murderer who committed a rape and robbery while out of prison.

The television commercial began running Friday and it features a retired Anchorage police sergeant, Bob Glen, who drives to the scene of one of the worst crimes in Alaska's history telling the viewer, "I want to show you a crime scene." Last year, a man named Jerry Active was accused of murdering an elderly couple and sexually assaulting the couple's 2-year-old granddaughter, as well as the girls' great-grandmother, who suffered from dementia.

In the ad, Glen does not mention the victims' names, but text across the screen gives the address of the crime scene. Glen accuses Begich's GOP opponent, former Alaska attorney general Dan Sullivan, of letting "a lot of sex offenders get off with light sentences."

"One of them got out of prison and is now charged with breaking into that apartment building, murdering a senior couple and sexually assaulting their 2-year-old granddaughter," Glen says looking into the camera. "Dan Sullivan should not be a U.S. senator."

The crime Glen is referring to occurred in 2013. The Anchorage Daily News has reported that Active had previously been sentenced to four years in prison for a 2009 sexual assault attempt. It's a sentence that should have been double that, between eight to fifteen years, but was accidentally made shorter because of a state error that failed to identify a prior felony conviction, the paper reported.

Active has plead not guilty to the 2013 crime and is currently awaiting trial.

The Sullivan campaign released a timeline of the case to reporters noting the sentencing error was made before he was appointed attorney general and it was instead when he was still in active duty in the Marine Corps.

The Anchorage Dispatch News (formerly the Anchorage Daily News), reported Begich initially defended the ad and said they would not take it down. The Begich campaign pointed out that Sullivan's name appears on Active's plea agreement dated March 2010 explaining why they believe the ad is correct. However, this is due to the initial error, before Sullivan was the state's attorney general.

The state's current attorney general, a Republican, has called Begich's ad "inappropriate and offensive" and has "no basis in fact."

Sullivan put out a response ad soon after Begich's ad went on the air. With Sullivan looking at the camera he mentions the accused killer by name saying, "You may have seen the dishonest ads using Jerry Active's heinous crimes for political gain. Here's the truth: the failure that led to Active's release occurred before I even became attorney general."

(Dan Sullivan for U.S. Senate / CMAG)

Sullivan went on to state that he "secured tougher sentences for violent criminals and cracked down on sexual assault," adding, "Mark Begich's lies about this tragedy are shameful."

The victims' family requested on Sunday that both campaigns stop running the ads saying it was hurting the family and could tamper the potential jury pool for Active's trial.

The ad campaign war between the two candidates is still on the air today despite the victims' family request that the ads come down. Both campaigns have said they pulled the ads, but possibly due to how long it can take for an ad to be taken down especially over a holiday weekend, despite requests from a campaign, they are both still up as of Tuesday, according to ad tracking group Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, which also gave ABC News copies of the ads. Bryon Collins, an attorney for the victims' family sent a scathing cease and desist letter to the Begich campaign Monday, but in a statement Tuesday he said both campaigns "have complied with the families wishes to remove all media references to the ongoing case."

After initially declining to take down the ads, Begich's campaign then pulled the commercial. Sullivan's campaign said it would comply with the family's request when they issued the request. The Begich campaign told ABC News they made a request Sunday morning of stations to replace the ad so it would not be in rotation. But, on Monday, Collins, the attorney for victim's family sent the letter to the Begich campaign demanding they stop running the ad.

In the letter obtained by ABC News, Collins accuses the campaign of lying to him about when the ad will be pulled down writing the "campaign is not reducing the publicity of my clients' ongoing grief and tragedy but inciting it, and simply attempting to play politics at their expense. I am highly offended that your campaign manager will tell me one thing and your campaign does another when my client's wishes that you completely and unconditionally remove all reference to the case, including any sentencing issues, were directly known to your office."

"The family directly and without question has told your campaign they want no part of this," Collins writes in part. "However if necessary I will defend them in the press, courthouse, or steps of our government from this abomination of political abuse you have placed them in…You are tearing this family apart to the point that your ad was so shocking to them they now want to permanently leave the state as quickly as possible….Your actions are directly interfering with the prosecution."

The Begich campaign says the letter was "politically motivated" because it was provided to the Sullivan campaign. Sullivan's spokesman Mike Anderson said, "Mark Begich began this distasteful and offensive debate, and our campaign is pleased we could play a role, along with the victims' attorney, in ending it.