Update, 10:22 a.m.: Begich has announced a 3:30 p.m. news conference at his Anchorage campaign headquarters to “make an announcement about the future of the campaign.”
Months of speculation, political pressure and a proposed compact to consolidate the camps of of independent Gov. Bill Walker and Democratic candidate Mark Begich into a head-to-head race against Republican candidate Mike Dunleavy will finally come to a head today.
Candidates in state races have until today at 5 p.m. to withdraw from the general election ballot, a maneuver many have hoped Begich—or even Walker—would take in a repeat of the 2014 governor’s race.
Since the last-minute entrance of Begich into the race, progressive and moderate opponents of Dunleavy have worried that Begich and Walker would split the vote and hand the the governorship to the conservative former state senator.
Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami has been one of the most outspoken proponents of a head-to-head race, arguing that Walker has earned a second term in office. The AFL-CIO endorsed Walker in mid August, but has yet to officially commit any resources to backing the governor’s reelection bid. Unions played a significant role in putting Walker into office in 2014, putting about a million dollars into independent expenditure campaigns backing his candidacy against Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.
“In our opinion, a three-way race is just a recipe for ending up with Mr. Dunleavy as the governor,” Beltrami told Alaska Public Media’s Andrew Kitchenman.
Polling conducted by various groups, including the AFL-CIO, suggests that both Walker and Begich would have good chances of winning a head-to-head race against Dunleavy. Dunleavy has topped the polls of a three-way race, though some insiders have suggested the polling is close enough for it to be competitive for any candidate.
But will they?
As it stands, it appears unlikely that Walker or Begich will withdraw from the race. Both have publicly said they don’t plan to, but things can always change.
Both candidates have spent much of their attention drawing differences between each other rather than going toe-to-toe with Dunleavy. Progressive and moderate groups—the anti-Dunleavy forces—have also started to pick sides.The AFL-CIO has endorsed Walker while many progressive groups like Planned Parenthood and others have endorsed Begich.
While union money has so far sat on the sidelines of the independent expenditure scene, groups have formed in support of both Walker—Unite Alaska—and Begich—Begich for Alaska—have already pledged to invest in the race.
By this time in the 2014 election cycle, we already learned of the formation of the unity ticket between Walker’s independent campaign and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s Democratic campaign. The so-called “Unity Ticket” formed over Labor Day weekend.
Without a merger, the stakes in the governor’s race will be as high as ever.
Not only does the state stand to go in wildly different directions under the leadership of any of the three candidates, but their political careers and future political capital are on the line too. A Dunleavy victory—especially one where he doesn’t cross 50 percent—could irreparably damage the future political capital of Walker and particularly Begich, who’s already garnered quite a bit of ill will among independents and some moderate Democrats for his entrance into the race. The grudges borne out of a three-way race could leave political schisms between independents, moderates and progressives for years to come.
Just a few hours to go.
It’s not just the governor’s race that’s drawing attention today, but plenty of legislative races as the deadline nears.
The most notable reshaping of a race happened on Friday, when Democratic candidate for House District 36 Ghert Abbott, of Ketchikan, withdrew from challenging independent Rep. Dan Ortiz. That sets up a two-way race between Ortiz and Republican candidate Trevor Shaw, who resigned from the school board after a recall petition was certified for the October local elections.
Non-partisan candidate for House District 29 Shawn Butler has also withdrawn from the general election after winning the uncontested Democratic primary for the seat held by outgoing Rep. Mike Chenault. If the party doesn’t replace Butler, the winner of the closely contested Republican primary will have a clear path to the seat. That race is currently separated by 12 votes with Ben Carpenter in the lead over Wayne Ogle. (Whoops, got this wrong. Butler withdrew from the nominating petition method of reaching the ballot and took the primary route. She is still set to run on the Democratic Party’s ticket.)