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GOP primary mostly misses Alaska

Romney wins some early endorsements; seeks to capitalize on last campaign

Posted: November 11, 2011 - 1:06am
Murray Walsh conducts an interview during his "Action Line" radio show for KJNO on Thursday. Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced on Walsh show last month that she was supporting Mitt Romney for President.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Murray Walsh conducts an interview during his "Action Line" radio show for KJNO on Thursday. Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced on Walsh show last month that she was supporting Mitt Romney for President.

The hotly-contested Republican presidential primary isn’t going to entirely pass Alaska by, but it might seem like it.

While the battle for the nomination shifts from one contested early state to another, with first Mitt Romney, then Michele Bachmann, then Romney again, then Rick Perry, then Romney and then Herman Cain jumping out in front.

So far Romney has made an effort in Alaska, with an early visit by son Josh Romney and emails to the Empire and other media when he won Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s endorsement.

Cain has been doing automated phone calls in Alaska, but that may be as much about seeking money as seeking convention delegates.

Capital City Republicans Co-chairman Ben Brown said he’s not surprised at the lack of attention, given the state’s small size and relatively late March 5 caucus.

“Historically, we have not been considered a pivotal player,” he said.

That’s in part because of how the party operates in Alaska — the caucus in 2012 is not binding on the state’s delegates.

Despite Treadwell’s early endorsement, some of Juneau’s Republican leaders say they’re not taking any stand yet, and they might not until the party has a nominee.

“It’s actually still fairly early,” Brown said. “And there’s been so much dynamism and fluidity, I don’t have any plans to (make an endorsement) at this point.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Juneau recently endorsed Romney on Murray Walsh’s Actionline show on KJNO; a move Walsh said took him by surprise.

“I asked her if she had leanings toward one or another, fully expecting her not to declare because it was pretty early in the game, but she did say she was supporting Romney,” Walsh said.

Walsh said they talked a bit about Romney’s experience, but he wasn’t ready with any follow-up questions and they moved on to other issues.

“I was sort of unprepared,” he said.

But Murkowski’s support wasn’t that much of a surprise, he said.

“Romney is a pretty mainline candidate, not necessarily the favorite of the more right-leaning of the right wing,” he said.

Walsh said he hasn’t yet decided whom to support, but as an Alaskan he doesn’t have to decide for a long time.

“I’d prefer somebody a little harder-edged than Romney – we need some big changes,” he said.

Local republican leader Paulette Simpson said she wouldn’t be doing an endorsement either.

“I’m staying totally out of it,” she said.

Simpson said she expected the state’s other top office holders, Gov. Sean Parnell and Rep. Don Young, to not make an early endorsement either.

While that keeps options open for later, crucial early support for an eventual winner can also be used to help the state later, she said.

That may be Treadwell’s strategy as he highlighted Alaska’s issues in his Romney endorsement.

“Alaska’s agenda is to help America’s agenda: we produce energy and help keep America strong. The current White House doesn’t get it,” he said.

In 2008, Romney won Alaska’s caucus preference poll, but it didn’t help him win the nomination. Placing second that year was Mike Huckabee, with Ron Paul third and eventual nominee John McCain placing fourth.

Then Gov. Sarah Palin, who had not made an endorsement of McCain during the primary, wound up as his vice-presidential running mate.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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