JUNEAU - One of three Democrats running for governor in Alaska dropped out of the race Monday, citing a lack of funds.
Bob Poe, a consultant, began his campaign in January 2009, when he thought he'd be challenging then-Gov. Sarah Palin. She quit the governor's job last summer.
Poe was never able to gain traction or become a household name. He wore an "I Know Bob Poe" button with the "Know" crossed out and an "Am" over it, his cheeky icebreaker to prospective voters.
Poe said in an interview Monday that he couldn't ask Alaskans to continue to contribute their time and money to his campaign if he honestly didn't think he could win.
His departure leaves state Sen. Hollis French and former state legislator Ethan Berkowitz in the race. He didn't endorse either; Poe, who served in four administrations and has extensive private sector experience, said he'd like to see one embrace some of the ideas he'd proposed on a natural gas corridor and for further developing and diversifying Alaska's now-energy-dependent economy.
Jerry McBeath, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the Democratic challenger, regardless of who he is, will likely face long odds in beating the Republican. While there are more registered Republicans than Democrats in the state, undeclared voters outnumbers both, and McBeath said Alaskans tend to be conservative - a certain amount of federal government-bashing goes over well and calls to cut big budgets are loud, so long as those cuts don't hit too close to home, he said.
Poe told the party faithful at the Democrats' state convention last month that he believed the party needed to unite behind one candidate by June or sooner to give Democrats' the best chance possible to take on Gov. Sean Parnell, who he believed would be the Republican nominee following August party primaries.
Neither Berkowitz or French has indicated plans to leave the race early. Both said Monday that they're meeting their respective fundraising targets.
Poe said one of the challenges any candidate will face is what he called "governor fatigue" among voters. After Palin's stormy tenure, he said some seem willing to settle for calm, and that Parnell, who inherited the office when she resigned, has provided that. But he said Alaskans need to challenge Parnell on whether he has the vision to carry the state forward.
Parnell has sought to burnish his conservative credentials with recent vetoes, cuts to the state capital budget and veto of an expansion of health insurance program for low-income families because, he said, it also funded abortions. McBeath called abortion a "perennial" issue in Alaska politics and a "real litmus test" for whoever wants to be the Republican nominee.
He doesn't see Parnell as being coronated, and believes former state legislator Ralph Samuels, who's among a field of challengers, could be a serious contender.
McBeath expects the defining issues of the race overall to be energy and the economy.