Monday, July 30, 2018

Alaska Governor-Race of the Day

99 Days Until Election Day

Alaska Governor

Status: Independent Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

The year of 2014 saw one of the more unorthodox political results take place in Alaska, and 2018 also have much intrigue present as this is likely to be the most closely contested three-way race anywhere in America. In theory,  any of the three main candidates could still win the general election, and it will take some to see truly how the race develops. I cannot claim to be an expert on the state government issues surrounding the budget or natural resources or anything else going on in the Frontier State, and with the primary still close to a month away, much about this contest remains undetermined.

In 2014, incumbent Republican Governor Sean Parnell was believed to be a solid favorite for reelection in a state that typically favored his party, and in a year that was strong for Republicans. The race was shaken up though when businessman Bill Walker, a former Mayor, filed to run as an Independent. Walker had been a longtime Republican, and had been defeated in a Gubernatorial primary by Parnell four years earlier. Instead of seeking a challenge in the primary to the Governor, he ran as an Independent and even more significantly got the Democrats, post-primary, to step aside in the race in favor of his candidacy. Thus, the nominee for Governor of that party, Byron Mallot agreed to join forces with Walker and run as his candidate for Lt. Governor. Republicans attempted to thwart this political merger in court but were unsuccessful. With a divided Republican base (including the endorsement of former Governor Sarah Palin, under whom Parnell had served as Lt. Governor), and united support from Democrats, the Walker/Mallott ticket defeated Parnell by a very narrow margin. This was a rare 2014 instance of a Republican incumbent losing. It is highly unlikely that Mallot would have defeated Parnell leading a Democrat ticket. (This entire election in 2014 leads to some interesting thoughts as to what could happen if Democrats stepped aside nationally in favor of a NeverTrump "centrist" Independent Republican in the next Presidential election.)

By virtue of the election, Walker was nominally a Democrat Governor, although he claimed he would govern as an Independent, and had to work with a Republican legislature. There were of course some clashes between the entities in Juneau as Walker was seen a a fairly moderate Governor during his term. On the personal front, he also had surgery to fight prostate cancer.

As the 2018 cycle approached, there was much speculation as to if Walker would seek reelection, and if he would do so as a Democrat, Republican, or Independent. That made him a pretty unique character in modern politics. Most political watchers assumed he would run again as an Independent, with the nominal support of the Democrats, keeping firm his alliance with Mallott. Gradually though, public approval surveys showed that Walker was becoming increasingly less popular in the state. Seeking an opening, the Democrats suddenly found a candidate of their own. In a bit of a surprise, former U.S. Senator Mark Begich filed to run. The former Senator served one term but was narrowly defeated in a strong year for Republicans nationally in 2014, at the same time Walker was winning the Governorship.

This move by Begich to enter the race all but assured that Walker would have to file as a traditional Independent. (Ironically, if the Republican primary field had been crowded enough, he might have had motivation to seek that party's spot as he could have won against divided opposition, although that would have complicated matters for his Democrat Lt. Governor running-mate.)

Speaking of running-mates, in Alaska, the nominees of the major parties will formally be chosen in the primaries and then will run as a team with the Gubernatorial nominee. Mallott is running again with Walker, as an Independent, while Begich has selected  Debra Call, a Tribal Council President (which has nothing to do with the reality show "Survivor.") Alaska Natives make up a politically important constituency and both Mallott and Call are members of the Native community. as is the wife of the Republican front-runner for Governor.

I cannot speak as to whom might wind up as the Republican nominee for Lt. Governor in a crowded field that will see its primary in August. The leading candidates seem to be former State Representative Lynn Gattis, and current State Senators Kevin Meyer and Gary Stevens. None of the candidates in the GOP field seem to have any sort of alliance with the two main Republican candidates for Governor.

At one point it looked several Republicans might be itching for the chance to take on Walker, but the field has now narrowed to two main contenders (although seven will appear on the ballot.) A third major contender recently dropped out of the race after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This leaves a contest that is likely to be won by either former State Senator Mike Dunleavy or former Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, whom like Parnell and Begich, also faced defeat in 2014, when he finished a disappointing third in a primary for U.S. Senate.

The Republican establishment in the state appears to be lining up behind Dunleavy, including former Governor Parnell, whom had Treadwell as his Lt. Governor and 2010 running-mate. The state Republican Party has seen significant splits over at least the past decade and a half and Treadwell seems to be running as a more populist alternative to party favorite Dunleavy. Polling data seems to indicate though that Dunleavy is very much a GOP front-runner, and he is believed to be the more electable general election candidate.

So, the stage looks set for a three-way battle between Walker, Begich, and Dunleavy. All three candidates should wind up receiving at least 25 percent of the vote and the ultimate winner might be fortunate to hit 40 percent of the vote. This means the race is basically up for grabs. As the least known of the three in the state, Dunleavy benefits most from this scenario. In a traditional contest against either opponent, he might be lagging behind, at least at this portion of the year. The Republican label in the state is probably enough to ensure that Dunleavy will at least finish in second place, whereas Walker and Begich could  both finish on any of the three political medal stands.

It is significant that Walker's job approval is so low. It means that the voters are ready for a change, but the incumbent could also benefit from divided opposition, similar to have Paul LePage was reelected as Governor in Maine. If there were to be the type of Republican disunity as was the case four years ago, Begich could sneak in with a plurality victory too. However, I am going to surmise that the most likely outcome will be that Begich and the Walker/Mallott ticket, who were on the same side in 2014, split that base, allowing for Dunleavy to be elected Governor in a state where Republicans have traditionally prevailed. Right now, three way polling shows this path, but the margins are very close.

Of course, Dunleavy has the matter of winning the primary first. He and his party certainly got a major break though when Begich entered this contest, effectively severing the incumbent from the other major party.

Gubernatorial Races predicted thus far:

0 D, 2 R (1 Safe, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

7 D (7 holdovers), 9 R (7 holdovers, 1 Safe, 1 Tossup)


At 4:28 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

GOP Pick-up.


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