Proposal would have either Walker or Begich drop out of race

Sen. Hollis French speaks to reporters during a February 2014 press conference. French recently proposed a pact that would have required either Gov. Bill Walker or former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich to drop out of the race for governor. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

An idea by a prominent Alaska Democrat likely would have shaken up the state’s gubernatorial race.

Listen now

Hollis French’s proposal, which was first reported by Anchorage Daily News columnist Charles Wohlforth, suggested either Gov. Bill Walker or former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich drop out of the race.

“I think there’s a lot of what I would call anxiety in the center and the left of the political spectrum in Alaska,” French said.

French wants Walker and Begich to agree that one of the two candidates could drop out to eliminate that anxiety.

Begich supports the idea, but Walker rejected it.

Four years ago, independent candidate Walker joined forces with Democrat Byron Mallott, shrinking a three-way race down to two major candidates.

Mallott’s running mate French dropped out to allow that to happen.

Walker then defeated incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell.

French’s proposal suggests a measurement of which candidate is strongest would decide which candidate should drop out.

The candidates could decide how to do that, French said.

French suggested that if three different polls find that one candidate is polling worse than the other, the lower-polling candidate would commit to dropping out.

“I got a yes from Mark Begich and I guess I would characterize it as a no from the Walker campaign,” French said.

Under French’s proposal, both candidates would stay in the race if the polling was mixed.

French supports Begich, but said he would vote for Walker if the race came down to the incumbent governor and either of the leading Republican candidates, Mike Dunleavy and Mead Treadwell.

Begich said it took a couple of days to think about the idea.

“I don’t want people to get the misunderstanding that I don’t believe I can win,” Begich said. “I believe I’m going to be in a three-way race, I have a great shot of winning it straight out. But I was happy for the greater good to consider the idea that he laid on the table.”

Begich hoped Walker would agree to the proposal.

“I was hoping that he would consider it, but it’s a determination that he needs to make, just as he decided not to run in the Democratic primary after committing to it,” Begich said. “He decided to switch and create the three-way race, which I think is what’s caused a lot of the dilemma here.”

Begich decided to run after concluding he could win either a two-way or a three-way race. He also said he was concerned about Walker’s ability to win a two-way race.

The AFL-CIO commissioned a poll in late June that found Dunleavy would win a three-way race, with Walker and Begich tied for second, but both Walker and Begich were ahead of Dunleavy in a two-way race.

Walker campaign manager John-Henry Heckendorn said the governor will convince Alaskans that he’s made necessary decisions.

“First I want to be absolutely clear, Mark Begich knew that if he got into the race, Bill Walker was going to run against him in the general, not in the Democratic primary,” Heckendorn said. “Walker was interested in the race for who had the strongest vision for Alaska’s future, not a competition for who was the best Democrat between him and Mark Begich. And Mark Begich knew that.”

Heckendorn said Walker wasn’t the candidate who created the three-way race.

“The governor filed in August of last year,” Heckendorn said. “Mark Begich filed a half-hour before the filing deadline. He absolutely had control over whether or not to put Alaskans in that position.”

The deadline for candidates to remove their names from the general election ballot is Sept. 4.