It’s been nearly a month since Gov. Bill Walker announced he would enter the Alaska Democratic Party’s gubernatorial primary, but as of today there are currently no candidates officially registered to run for the seat.
All eyes, including those of Walker’s campaign, are on whether or not former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich decides to finally end the rampant rumors and enter the race. Begich could force out other gubernatorial hopefuls, including Walker.
Campaign manager John-Henry Heckendorn said in a statement today that Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, a Democrat, aren’t interested in a “destructive primary” between Walker and Begich. If the Democratic superstar does enter the race, Heckendorn said Walker and Mallott will take a different path to the general election.
“If Mark Begich decides to run in the Democratic primary at the last minute, Bill and Byron will run as independents via nominating petition, based on those criteria,” he said. “They are not interested in a destructive primary, and they are absolutely committed to making sure that Alaskans have an independent choice on November 6th.”
Those criteria, Heckendorn explained in the statement are as follows:
“Bill and Byron have three criteria for the path that they take in this election. That path must (1) allow them to run together and (2) continue to uphold the values that they both stand for. Once those two criteria are satisfied, they will choose the path that (3) puts them in the most competitive position in the November general election.”
The path of a nominating petition would require the Walker campaign to collect 3,213 signatures for both Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott to appear on the general election. They would have until 5 p.m. on the day of the primary election, which is Aug. 21, to turn in their signatures.
Heckendorn’s statement thanked the Alaska Democratic Party for opening its primaries to independent candidates–which was recently upheld as constitutional by the Alaska Supreme Court–and reiterated that the campaign still plans to take that route.
“Bill and Byron are grateful for the support of the Democratic Party in the last election, and to the Democratic Party and the individuals who have worked hard to open the Democratic Primary to independents in order to achieve a two-way race in the general,” he said. “That is the path they plan to take right now”
Still, the warning is a sign that the relationship between Walker and Democrats is not nearly as solid as it was in 2014, when the alliance between former Republican Walker’s independent campaign and Mallott’s Democratic campaign created a competitive two-way race with Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.
It’s also likely recognition that Walker would face near-impossible odds in a Democratic primary against Begich. Some Democratic insiders have noted that the governor’s relationship with Democrats have somewhat soured in recent years, particularly at times when it seemed Walker side with the ultra-conservative Alaska Senate over the bipartisan House.
On Tuesday, Walker released a campaign ad reiterating his independent credentials.
Begich, for his part, has been publicly quiet about his plans on the race. Last fall he publicly acknowledged he was exploring the race, and asked that his supporters “keep your powder dry.”
Polling puts both Walker and Begich well ahead of Republican gubernatorial front-runner Mike Dunleavy in head-to-head races, but a three-way race gives the upper hand to a Republican candidate (a generic one in the polling we’ve seen).
Either way, we’ll find out soon. The filing deadline is less than two full work days away.