“It’s (been) an interesting last 24 hours,” Begich told the Ketchikan Daily News on Wednesday, stressing that he is moving forward with his campaign.
Begich, the Democratic candidate for governor and former U.S. senator, was in Ketchikan to speak at the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp convention on Wednesday afternoon.
Begich is in a three-way race against Gov. Bill Walker and former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla.
“There’s a lot of turmoil right now, a lot of turmoil. And I will say this; I think we have to think of one thing here, the viability of who can win this election, because Sen. Dunleavy is not good for Alaska,” Begich told the crowd. “…. His ideas will hurt Alaska, again not just this generation, but generations to come.”
Begich’s visit comes on the heels of the sudden and unexpected resignation of former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who stepped down because of what Walker called an “inappropriate overture to a woman.”
Valerie Davidson was quickly sworn into office as lieutenant governor following Mallott’s resignation.
But with just about three weeks until election day, much speculation has been made as to how Mallott’s departure will impact the election.
John-Henry Heckendorn, Walker’s campaign manager, told the Associated Press on Tuesday following the resignation that the Walker campaign has been in talks for some time with Begich regarding a “path forward for Alaska” that wouldn’t involve Dunleavy being governor.
Those comments sparked conjecture Tuesday and into Wednesday of either Walker or Begich endorsing the other, or forming a unity ticket of sorts.
The Daily News spoke with Heckendorn Wednesday evening and asked whether Walker was staying in the race. Heckendorn said he was.
“As of today,” Heckendorn said. “We’re moving forward with (Valerie) Davidson as the person who will be lieutenant governor if Walker is re-elected.”
“We are in discussions with the Begich team, and have been for several days, conversations between the governor and Begich,” Heckendorn said. “Those conversations are unrelated to what has happened with Byron; they are ongoing and I’m not able to talk about the details of those conversations.”
Begich also said Wednesday afternoon that the “path forward for Alaska” discussions had occurred prior to Mallott’s resignation.
“We’ve had these conversations before all this happened. I want to make sure that’s clear,” Begich said in an interview with the Daily News after his speech at the ANB/ANS event. “… After especially the few debates that Dunleavy has showed up for, it became very apparent to both of us, this is not the person that should be serving in the governorship of Alaska.”
When asked repeatedly during the interview Wednesday for a yes or no answer to the question of whether he would stay in the race to its finality, Begich simply answered, “We’re moving forward with our campaign.”
Throughout the interview, Begich reiterated that nothing has changed about his campaign.
“We know November sixth is around the corner so we ain’t stopping,” Begich said. “… Nothing has changed with our campaign; we are full steam ahead.”
Begich said that at the time of the interview he had not spoken directly with Walker since Mallott’s resignation, noting that he couldn’t speculate on what Walker would decide to do.
“I don’t know where this all leads at this point,” Begich said. “I can only say that the governor’s volunteer activities all stopped this week; they put a memo out on that and said no more volunteer activities. A variety of other things have occurred.”
Heckendorn disputed the idea that all of the governor’s volunteer activities had been canceled in a Wednesday evening phone call with the Daily News.
“That news was overstated and has been corrected; we canceled a phone bank last night and phone bank tonight — we’ve only canceled two events,” Heckendorn said. “We didn’t cancel all of our events for this week.”
Begich said during the interview, prior to Heckendorn’s Wednesday confirmation that Walker was staying in, that any decision regarding how Walker’s campaign moves forward would likely be swift because of the fast-approaching election.
“It has to be quick because early voting is Monday where people can walk in and vote,” Begich said. “Only a thousand of the absentees (ballots) have been turned back. But people have ballots in their hands right now. So it is a big decision right now.”
Begich told the Daily News that his campaign has been ramping up going into the final stretch, noting that his campaign found out that the independent expenditure group supporting his candidacy has pumped $100,000 into TV ads supporting the former U.S. senator.
Begich also spoke about recent polling by Alaska Survey Research, which he said looks positive for his bid to be the next governor.
“The only person who moved, was me — moved up,” Begich said. “And the only person who has moved down was Dunleavy against me, which also told me, OK, our trend lines might be right kind of where we need them right now even though this is still portrayed as a three-way race.”
Begich characterized Walker’s next moves as important in regards to how the election will shake out.
“I want to be respectful to the governor because I think, you know, it wasn’t anything the governor did and he’s caught in this quagmire,” Begich said. “And now how he handles this will determine, in a lot of ways, the future of Alaska. There’s no question.”
Heckendorn said that Walker would still be attending Alaska Federation of Natives events that were planned prior to Mallott’s resignation.
“We have a reception (Thursday) night and a breakfast, open invitation, on Friday morning,” he said. “… The reception was going to be a fundraiser, but we’re standing down the fundraising component.”
Daniel McDonald, a spokesperson for the Dunleavy campaign, told the Daily News on Wednesday that, in terms of strategy, nothing has changed given the news of Mallott’s resignation and ongoing discussions between the Walker and Begich campaigns.
“Basically our campaign is focused on the issues and that hasn’t changed and from the Dunleavy campaign perspective nothing changes from our point of view,” McDonald said. “… We’re just still focused on the issues and getting our message out.”
Begich told the ANB/ANS audience during his speech on Wednesday that he hopes for the members’ support in the upcoming election.
“This is going to be a tough race. I can’t tell you what its going to look like over the next couple of days, but I’ll tell you, it’s a changing times. We believe we can win,” Begich told the crowd.