Independent Gov. Bill Walker is among the most vulnerable incumbents seeking re-election this cycle. He had hoped to improve his chances in November by running for the Democratic nomination while vowing to remain an independent.
This isn’t a new strategy. In Vermont, independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders seeks the Democratic nomination and wins the primary, only to withdraw as the nominee and run as an independent, leaving the Democratic line on the ballot blank. Walker wanted the nomination simply because he believed his chances at re-election were better in a two-way race than a three-way contest.
Walker’s plans got upended as the filing deadline came to a close on June 1 as former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich filed for the Democratic nomination. Walker quickly withdrew, leaving Begich as the presumptive nominee since no other Democrat filed.
Republicans are hosting an eight-way primary, although former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy and former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell are the clear frontrunners. Treadwell sought the U.S. Senate nomination in 2014, placing third with 25 percent. Republicans argue that they are better off with a three-way race because Begich and Walker share the same pool of voters that they will split, leaving the GOP nominee to win with a plurality of the vote. Regardless of how much truth there is in that, this race has been high of Republicans’ target list and the recent developments have made it more of a challenge.
Begich has breathed new hope into the race for Democrats. He was a popular Mayor of Anchorage when he decided to challenge long-time GOP U.S. Ted Stevens in 2008, narrowly edging out the incumbent. Begich lost his re-election bid in 2014 by 6,000 votes. Democrats like their chances in a three-way race, contending that Walker will hurt the Republican nominee more than he will siphon votes away from Begich.
The primary isn’t until August 21, so the general election won’t get underway until the end of the summer. The race will stay in Toss Up.