Alaska Governor Ends Reelection Bid 3 Days After His Running Mate Resigned

by | October 22, 2018 AT 10:25 AM

By Tegan Hanlon and Annie Zak

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced Friday he is dropping his bid for re-election, and threw support to Democrat Mark Begich over Republican Mike Dunleavy.

Walker, elected as an independent, made the surprise announcement at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention, three days after former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott abruptly stepped down from both his office and the re-election campaign over unspecified "inappropriate comments" he made to a woman.

With less than three weeks until Election Day and with more than 23,000 absentee ballots already mailed to voters, Walker's decision to step away from his campaign marks a significant, last-minute change in the battle to become Alaska's next governor.

The three-way race has now become a two-way fight between Begich, a former U.S. senator, and Dunleavy, a former state senator. How this complicates voting is not yet completely clear. Some Alaskans have already sent in their voted ballots.

Walker, the only governor in America currently in office who wasn't elected as a Republican or Democrat, had been scheduled to attend a candidate forum at the AFN convention Friday afternoon with his competitors Begich and Dunleavy.

Instead, he went on the stage at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center -- before the forum started -- and told a crowd of hundreds from across the state: "Every decision I have made as your governor, I have made on the basis of what I believe is best for Alaska. With that said, effective today, I am suspending my campaign for the re-election as governor."

There were gasps and shouts from the audience.

An emotional Walker, in a blue kuspuk, said that with only 18 days until the election, "it has become clear, we cannot win a three-way race." This week, he said, he talked to "many, many, many Alaskans" about who had a better chance of competing against Dunleavy.

"The determination was made that, at this point, Begich has the better odds," Walker said.

Both Begich and Dunleavy were in the crowd watching, along with their families and campaign staff.

Dunleavy watched the speech intently, leaned forward, showing no reaction. He stood during a standing ovation when Walker introduced his wife, First Lady Donna Walker. He remained seated at the end of the speech as the crowd gave Walker an ovation.

Soon after Walker's announcement, Dunleavy told the Daily News that he will still win the election.

"That's the goal. That's the plan," he said. "I'm still trying to take all this in. This is news to me."

His team plans to forge ahead, he said.

"We didn't know the lieutenant governor was gonna to drop out, we didn't know the governor was gonna drop out," Dunleavy said. "We don't know what's gonna happen over the next 18 days."

Friday night, Dunleavy's campaign sent out an emailed statement criticizing Walker's announcement.

"Governor Walker could have chosen a dignified, graceful exit to his campaign," Dunleavy campaign manager Brett Huber said in the statement. "Instead, he opted to bow out with a bitter, partisan attack on Mike Dunleavy. It's too bad -- Alaskans deserve better."

Ballots already sent

Walker, a Republican-turned-independent, was elected in 2014 on a so-called unity ticket with Mallott, a Democrat, and defeated incumbent Republican Sean Parnell.

Walker entered office facing low oil prices and multi-million dollar budget shortfalls. Some voters never forgave him for pushing for an income tax -- Alaska has no statewide tax -- and pushing a spending plan that led to smaller annual Permanent Fund dividend checks.

Election Day is Nov. 6 and early voting starts Monday. The Walker-Mallott ticket will remain on the ballots, which have already been certified and printed, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.

More than that: The division has already sent out more than 23,000 absentee ballots, and Alaskans have voted and returned just over 3,000 of them, according to the division.

It's unclear what Walker's withdrawal from the race means for the election process.

Samantha Miller, division spokeswoman, said she did not yet have information Friday about the implications of Walker's dropping out on voting, including what it means for Alaskans who may have already sent in their absentee ballots and voted for the Walker-Mallott ticket.

"We're still processing through everything and we'll have more information available on Monday," she said

(c)2018 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)