Alaska’s Democratic and independent gubernatorial candidates announced Tuesday that they will join forces to run on the same ticket, a stunning decision aimed at creating a credible challenge to Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.
Bill Walker, a Republican who petitioned onto the ballot as an independent, said at a press conference that he will head the so-called “unity ticket,” while the expected Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Byron Mallott, will instead run for lieutenant governor.
“We’ll have a no-partisan administration. We are going to field the best and brightest Alaskans across the state,” said Mr. Walker at a press conference at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, which was aired via live stream by KTUU-TV.
“Our administration is going to look like Alaska in every way possible, because partisan politics will not have a place in our administration. Byron and I will work as a partnership,” said Mr. Walker.
The last-minute bombshell, announced just hours before the state elections division’s deadline, means that there will be no Democratic candidate for Alaska governor for the first time in state history. But that doesn’t mean Democrats are sitting out this election.
The Alaska Democratic Party Central Committee voted 89 to 2 on Monday to endorse the concept of a Walker-Mallott ticket, which has been widely viewed as having the best chance of defeating Mr. Parnell.
At the press conference, Mr. Mallott acknowledged that “some of this has been difficult,” but said he was encouraged by what he called “an unprecedented coming together of two campaigns to help build the Alaska of our future.”
As part of the bargain, both the Democratic and independent candidates for lieutenant governor — Hollis French and Craig Fleener, respectively — agreed to step aside in order to let Mr. Mallott seek that office.
Mr. Walker will also make a sacrifice by switching his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared. A former mayor of Valdez, he came in second behind Mr. Parnell in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary.
Mr. Walker insisted that the dropping of his Republican membership “really didn’t bother me,” adding, “I’m still conservative. I will remain that. I am how I am, regardless of what initial is by my name.”
The Parnell campaign issued a statement Tuesday disputing Mr. Walker’s conservative credentials and describing the newly formed independent ticket as “part of Alaska’s Team Obama.”
“Congratulations to Bill Walker and Byron Mallott for confirming what Alaskans already knew: They are two peas in a Democrat pod,” said Parnell spokesman Luke Miller.
“Bill Walker is really a Democrat, and he and Byron can now advocate freely for Obama’s policies in Alaska. Whether expanding Obamacare, raising taxes or growing government, Bill and Byron have confirmed they are part of Alaska’s Team Obama,” Mr. Miller said.
Alaska Democratic Party spokesman Zack Fields said independent candidates have been competitive in Alaska given that most state voters belong to neither the Democratic nor Republican parties.
“A majority, around 56 percent, of voters are registered either ‘undeclared’ or ‘nonpartisan,’” said Mr. Fields. “Now Bill Walker is one of them.”
In his Tuesday remarks, Mr. Walker said the new ticket and its supporters have “put people before politics, people before partisanship.”
“They’ve put Alaska before partisanship,” said Mr. Walker. “And that’s how we’re going to fix this state.”
Even so, defeating Mr. Parnell won’t be easy. The race has been ranked “safe Republican” by The Rothenberg Political Report and “solid Republican” by The Cook Political Report.
But that could change in a two-way race. The Walker campaign commissioned a poll last month by the Hays Research Group that showed the independent candidate leading Mr. Parnell by several percentage points in a head-to-head match-up.
The AFL-CIO is expected to get behind the Walker-Mallott ticket. The union declined last month to endorse a gubernatorial candidate, but its executive council was scheduled to reconsider the decision Thursday in the event of a combined ticket, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.