In an interview with the Juneau-based KTOO, Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami said independent Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has earned his re-election in the eyes of organized labor and should go into the general election in a head-to-head race with the Republican candidate.
The AFL-CIO released polling earlier this week that showed Walker and Democratic candidate Mark Begich were tied for second in a three-way race behind Republican front-runner Mike Dunleavy (who was way out ahead in polling of the Republican primary field).
In a prepared statement accompanying the release, Beltrami called it “deja vu” and compared it to the 2014 governor’s race that saw the merger of Walker’s independent campaign with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s Democratic campaign.
KTOO’s Andrew Kitchenman got the rest of the story in a candid interview with Beltrami.
“I hope that there can be some consensus between the Walker and Begich camps on the way forward, and of course that would mean, you know, potentially one of those candidates either stepping aside or coming to some kind of agreement like what happened back in 2014,” Beltrami told KTOO.
And when asked where he would be leaning in terms of support between whether it should be Walker or Begich at the top of this unity ticket, Beltrami said the answer was easy even if he’s supported both men in the past.
“If I had to make a bet, I would say that, if we can get an endorsement, if we can get two-thirds, that it would be more for Gov. Walker at this point, because folks believe that he’s earned re-election in our eyes,” Beltrami told KTOO before adding: “Now that’s just my opinion.”
The AFL-CIO will be considering endorsing one of the candidates by late August if two-thirds of its membership can agree on a pick.
Beltrami went on to say that he felt Begich’s entry to the race was confusing and that he’s not yet sold on Begich’s claims that he has a path to victory in a three-way race.
Both Walker and Begich sounded off to the comments already.
While Walker seemed open to Beltrami’s notion of narrowing the field–something he’s previously hinted at in an interview with The Midnight Sun–Begich seemed to be more reserved.
“In a lot of ways, I think the next seven or eight weeks will really tell the story of who has the best chance of winning in November,” Begich told KTOO. “I don’t think it can be determined based on a moment in time.”
AFL-CIO is the state’s largest federation of unions, representing many different public and private sector unions and holds considerable political sway both in terms of organizational and monetary support (even though unions have been undercut by the U.S. Supreme Court to a degree).