Nation’s Only Independent Gov. Drops Re-Election Bid In Alaska And Backs Democrat

The nation's only independent governor — Alaska's Bill Walker — ended his re-election campaign Friday.

Walker threw his support to the Democratic candidate, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. The Republican candidate, former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy, has been far ahead in polls, but Begich will likely draw closer now.

"Alaskans deserve a competitive race, and Alaskans deserve a choice other than Mike Dunleavy," Walker said.

It's too late to remove Walker's name from the ballot, so it will take work by Begich's campaign to inform voters about Walker's campaign suspension.

Walker's decision comes three days after his lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, resigned over what Walker says was an "inappropriate overture" toward an unnamed woman. Walker has declined to provide more details, citing the woman's privacy.

Alaska also had a race with three major candidates for governor narrowing down to two candidates in 2014.

Mallott, an Alaska Native leader, was the Democratic nominee for governor that year. But he agreed to join Walker's ticket after polls suggested that they would lose in a three-way race against then-Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican who had succeeded Sarah Palin in 2009. The Alaska Democratic Party backed the Walker-Mallott ticket, which narrowly defeated Parnell.

Walker had one of the highest approval ratings of any governor in the country early in his term. But that approval fell steadily after his veto cut the amount of money the state sends every Alaska man, woman and child from its oil wealth.

Money from oil allowed Alaska to be the only state without either an income tax or a sales tax while having the country's highest level of state and local government spending. Walker argued that his proposals were fiscally responsible, but they weren't popular. The Alaska Legislature voted twice to reduce the oil-wealth payments, but many Alaskans continued to blame Walker. He now has one of the lowest approval ratings of any governor.

Many Alaska Democrats abandoned Walker, encouraging Begich to run.

Begich built a reputation as a moderate in the Senate. But he's run to the left of Walker. He has highlighted his support for abortion rights and his opposition to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Begich applauded Walker's decision.

"I do want to acknowledge the amazing, courageous action that the governor did," Begich said. "He was about Alaska."

The state is one of the Republican Party's top targets to pick up a governorship, and Dunleavy has built the largest lead in polls of any Republican seeking to pick up a governorship.

Dunleavy was one of Alaska's most conservative lawmakers. He left the state Senate over his concerns about the reductions to oil-wealth payments. He's the only Alaska state senator of a majority party who in the past 30 years never was the primary sponsor of a law.

But his conservative positions resonated with Republican voters. He defeated businessman and former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in the primary.

Dunleavy said Walker's campaign had a problem after Mallott resigned.

"I think it was a surprise — not a shock, a surprise — given what happened with the lieutenant governor," he said of Walker suspending his campaign. "But we've always been focused ... on our race, what we stand for, getting the message out. So we're going to keep forging ahead."

Walker announced his decision at the convention of the largest Alaska Native organization, the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Libertarian Billy Toien also is running.

Alaska's Energy Desk's Elizabeth Harball contributed to this report.

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