JUNEAU — The next statewide election is more than a year away, but candidates are already lining up for the top races — U.S Senate, U.S. House, governor, lieutenant governor — hoping to build name recognition and campaign accounts that could help boost their chances.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, who has served in Congress for 40 years, announced plans to seek re-election before he won his last race in 2012. Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has been in a virtual state of campaigning since first winning election over the scandal-weakened Ted Stevens in 2008. Joe Miller, who lost to fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s historic 2010 U.S. Senate race, is seeking the GOP nomination for Begich’s seat.
State Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, and Palmer math teacher Bob Williams, a Democrat, announced plans to run for lieutenant governor as that office’s current holder, Mead Treadwell, mulls a U.S. Senate bid.
Gov. Sean Parnell plans to seek re-election, and Republican Bill Walker plans to again challenge Parnell in the gubernatorial GOP primary. Parnell had been seen as a possible U.S. Senate candidate, and his announcement last month put a quick end to speculation that weighed heavily over that race.
There are others, too, with more announcements expected in the weeks and months ahead. Speculation has surrounded the plans of Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan; Democratic state Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who has said he’s considering a run for governor; and Natural Resources Commissioner and former state attorney general Dan Sullivan.
Longtime political watcher Stephen Haycox said it’s a bit unusual to have so many candidates announce early. He said that speaks in part to interest in statewide issues, like the oil tax cut that passed the Legislature in April. But he said there’s a lot of interest, too, in knowing whether Begich — the lone Democrat in Alaska’s congressional delegation — is truly vulnerable. The National Republican Senatorial Committee intends to focus on Alaska’s U.S. Senate seat in its bid to regain control of the chamber.
Candidates also want a jump on fundraising, said Haycox, a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and pollster Ivan Moore.
The earlier a candidate’s in, the earlier he or she can start raising money, and the amount they raise could discourage others from getting in the race, Moore said. Of course, a lot depends on the strength of the candidate, he said, noting examples of late-comers who were successful, including Jack Coghill, who, weeks before the 1990 general election, withdrew as the GOP lieutenant governor candidate to join Wally Hickel on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket.
Walker announced plans to run for governor in April, 16 months before next year’s primary. He had announced his 2010 bid nine months ahead, in September 2009. He said he didn’t announce early this time for any particular reason other than he wasn’t happy with the direction the state was going and knew he wanted to run. He said he hasn’t held any campaign events yet, but he has gotten his social media effort up and running.
With a lot of time spent introducing himself to Alaskans, Walker felt he ran out of time in 2010, when he finished second to Parnell in the GOP primary. While he said he’ll still have to introduce himself to some degree, Walker says he’s starting in a different position this time.
McGuire said she announced when she did, in part, to have more time to travel the state, meet with Alaskans on their issues and give residents more time to get to know her.
Begich ended the last reporting period year with $1.5 million on hand. By comparison, Murkowski had about $730,000 available at the same point in her 2010 re-election bid. The Alaska Democratic Party took the unusual step recently of announcing its support of Begich before the primary, making clear where its allegiance lies and where it believes the money should go in the 2014 race.
When Miller announced his plans to run for U.S. Senate in 2010, he did so in April, four months before the August primary and “way late in the game,” he said, causing issues with getting his campaign up and running. This time around, he quietly filed a declaration of candidacy in May, 15 months before the 2014 U.S. Senate primary.