Alaska's Democratic and independent candidates for governor want to beat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell so badly that they are considering a plan to run on the same ticket.
Byron Mallott, who won the Aug. 19 Democratic gubernatorial primary, and Bill Walker, who petitioned onto the ballot as an independent, have until end of the business day Tuesday to notify the state Division of Elections if they decide to combine forces for the Nov. 4 election.
Before making such a move, the candidates have to resolve some thorny issues such as: Who runs for governor and who agrees to play second fiddle by running for lieutenant governor? Do they run as Democrats or independents? And can they persuade their current running mates to step aside?
Mallott spokeswoman Laury Scandling said discussions ended at 5 p.m. Friday with no agreement but negotiations are continuing.
"We're all in suspended animation here, believe me," said Ms. Scandling. "The challenge is configuring the logistics of Byron being in the [Democratic] Party and Bill not being in the party."
At the same time, she said, "One thing they share in common is that they want to get rid of Sean Parnell."
Most states would not hear of such a maneuver, but Alaska's political scene is nearly as untamed as its wilderness. Four years ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the Republican primary but won re-election as a write-in candidate.
The the Alaska AFL-CIO is pushing the idea of a Walker-Mallott — or Mallott-Walker — ticket. Labor leaders argue that the two candidates have little chance of unseating Mr. Parnell in a three-way race.
"We don't have an interest in getting involved in a race that doesn't have a real good, odds-on chance of beating Parnell," Vince Beltrami, president of the state umbrella labor organization, told the Alaska Dispatch News. "Unless and until Walker and Mallott can figure out how to come together on a ticket, I don't think the AFL-CIO will be interested in taking up an endorsement in that race."
A Public Policy Polling survey from early August shows Mr. Parnell with 37 percent of the vote, trailed by Mr. Mallott with 22 percent and Mr. Walker with 20 percent. The Cook Political Report has rated the race "solid Republican."
Anchorage political consultant Marc Hellenthal said there is another factor at play. Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat running for re-election in a race that could decide control of the Senate, likely won't receive much of a boost from the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.
On the other hand, Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan may enjoy a significant coattail effect from Mr. Parnell, who took over when Gov. Sarah Palin resigned in 2009.
Don't underestimate Mr. Begich's ability to influence the gubernatorial ticket, said Mr. Hellenthal, adding that "the real broker is Begich. The Democratic Party is run lock, stock and barrel by Begich."
He said speculation is that Mr. Walker, who served as mayor of Valdez as a Republican, would end up at the top of the ticket, with Mr. Mallott, a former Juneau mayor, running as lieutenant governor. Right now, Mr. Walker is running with former Fish and Game Commissioner Craig Fleener, and state Sen. Hollis French won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
"My understanding is the only debate is that the Democrats want Walker to change and run as a Democrat," said Mr. Hellenthal. "Walker's balking because he ran as a Republican last time. There's a lot of Republicans that would vote for Walker against Parnell, but it's too much of a gulf if he's now a Democrat."
In other words, "They'll take the step to independent, but to go all the way over to Democrat is a little too much Benedict Arnold," said Mr. Hellenthal, a longtime consultant who has worked with both Democrats and Republicans.
At the AFL-CIO convention Aug. 22 in Fairbanks, delegates declined to endorse any gubernatorial candidate, but that could change. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, the union's executive committee has agreed to meet Thursday to reconsider — two days after the elections division's deadline for printing ballots.
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