Alaska’s current Governor, Bill Walker, ran in 2014 as a moderate Independent against the incumbent conservative Republican, Sean Parnell. Byron Mallot won the Democratic nomination, but he didn’t campaign for the office himself, instead joining Walker as his choice for Lieutenant Governor. So the 2014 election had a conservative Republican running against the fusion of Democrats and moderate Independents.
Next year, the Democrats in Alaska are determined to run their own candidate, rather than support an Independent like Walker. So Walker has three possible paths to victory.
He can run again as an Independent again, but this would mean that the liberal and moderate forces in Alaska would be split between a moderate Independent and a liberal Democrat. A conservative Republican wins in that scenario. That’s exactly how Wally Hickel won in 1990. Running as a conservative Independent, he got 39% of the vote, beating a liberal Democrat and a Republican moderate.
Walker could run as a Democrat, but in Alaska a moderate or liberal Democrat can’t beat a conservative Republican straight up. Liberal Democrat Tony Knowles won in 1994, but he was up against a moderate, not a conservative, Republican. Knowles beat two conservative Republicans in the 1998 general election. John Lindauer was on the ballot as the Republican nominee, but the Central Committee of the Republican Party of Alaska renounced his candidacy, and voted to support a write-in campaign by State Senator Robin Taylor.
In 2002, 2006 and 2010 a conservative Republican beat a liberal or moderate Democrat. That’s the current political alignment of Alaska. The only Democrat who’s won a federal House or Senate seat in the last 44 years was Mark Begich in 2008. But his opponent, Ted Stevens, was convicted of corruption in federal court ten days before the election. Governor Walker has an approval rating in the low 40’s, and in a straight up match against a good conservative Republican he would probably lose.
Walker’s third option is to run as a Republican, and hope the conservative Republicans running will split the conservative vote, allowing him to win the primary with moderate Republicans and Independents. Since Independents can vote in the Republican primary, this could work.
52% of Alaskans are undeclared, independent or non-partisan. Only 26% are Republican. If Walker ran as a Republican, as he tried in 2010, he would not get any votes from the 15% of the voters who are registered Democrats. But this is probably the most realistic chance he has at reelection.
One serious Republican has filed for Governor so far, State Senator Mike Dunleavy. He’s a big Irish Catholic cop of a man, with a lovely Native wife and three daughters. He has a solid conservative record, and would be acceptable to most Republicans in the state. If no other serious Republican files, he’s probably the next Governor of Alaska.
The filing deadline is June 1, 2018. Until then, nobody knows who the next Governor of Alaska will be. But on June 2, we’ll have a pretty good idea.