“I’m waiting to see a poll to see who’s up.”
“I wish I could just cast a vote against Dunleavy.”
Over the past few weeks and months, we’ve all heard some variation of the quotes above as moderate and progressive voters wrestle with a three-way race for governor where up until this week, the only thing most could agree on was their opposition to the election of conservative Republican Mike Dunleavy.
Poll after poll of Alaska’s race has demonstrated that. After oscillating between independent Gov. Bill Walker and Democrat Mark Begich, the latest tracker poll by Alaska Survey Research put the two in a dead heat—for second place behind Dunleavy.
The consolidation between campaigns didn’t occur as many hoped before the general election ballots were finalized and printed, and the bickering between Walker supporters and Begich supporters continued while a huge amount of support, volunteer hours and money sat on the sidelines, undecided.
This week’s shocking resignation of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has changed that.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the “inappropriate comments” that forced Mallott to abruptly resign and withdraw from the campaign. It’s a matter that’s been muddied by a vague and indecisive response from the administration, welcoming further speculation and rumor mongering that will slow burn and drag on the race for the remaining three weeks before Nov. 6.
It’s a disappointment and a shame that so much of the hard work put into a landmark independent administration that was dealt a bad hand with oil prices and was forced to make the tough decisions is tarnished like this. Has Walker’s four years been perfect? No, of course not, but his willingness to stand up and make those decisions has earned him respect and support of many.
But respect only goes so far when it comes to winning.
The reason Walker can’t be the rallying point for the anti-Dunleavy vote unfortunately has almost nothing to do with his administration or even his administration’s handling of Mallott’s resignation, but the belief that’s been spreading fast as wildfire since Tuesday afternoon: That his already-slim chances of winning are now zero.
It’s going to be impossible for Walker to distance himself from Mallott with this little time. The two were the closest of friends during the 2014 race and the four years of their administration, but now it’s a liability. A liability the anti-Dunleavy voters can’t afford when the stakes are as high as they are.
As cynical as it sounds to be voting against something and not for something, that’s the reality of modern partisan politics. Walker’s legacy in office—the good for progressives like Medicaid expansion, significant progress between the state and Alaska Natives and the promise of a gasline—will assuredly be unwound by a Dunleavy administration, even if Democrats hold a chamber in the Legislature.
Simply put, the anti-Dunleavy crowd of voters is frantically looking for any clue of who has the best chance of prevailing against Dunleavy and now that we have that in hand, those on-the-fence voters have already started to make their decision. With time, a better response and a different race, Walker’s campaign and image could surely recover and the decision between Walker and Begich could revert back to the status quo, but we’re less than three weeks away.
Begich has a narrow path to prevailing in November, but at the very least he still has a path.