Tuesday’s U.S. Senate primary ballot for the Alaska Libertarian Party included two former party chairs, Mark Fish and Scott Kohlhaas. There was a third candidate, Thom Walker, a political unknown who works at a remote research station on the North Slope, and he didn’t raise any money or run a campaign.
Walker won the election anyway, grabbing 2,600 votes, compared to 1,600 for his two opponents combined. Shocked Libertarian Party officials are now scrambling to find him to see if he’ll appear at a scheduled debate next week -- and they speculate that Walker’s participation in the race may have been a ploy by Republicans to keep a more viable Libertarian candidate from siphoning votes away from the the GOP’s own nominee, Dan Sullivan.
“I really smell a fish in the woodpile here,” said Michael Chambers, the Alaska Libertarian Party chairman. “And I don’t mean Mark Fish.”
How does Walker, a former student body president at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, account for the results? He doesn’t: His mobile phone goes directly to voicemail, and an email message sent this week went unanswered.
In a Facebook message to Alaska Dispatch News last month, Walker simply said he was running “as an option to Alaska’s voters who don’t feel best served by a two-party system.”
One possible explanation for his success: the last name he shares with gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker, an independent whose name didn’t appear on the primary ballot. A spokeswoman for Bill Walker said a “couple” of supporters informed his campaign after the election that they had, in fact, filled in an oval for a Walker on Tuesday.
“They went to go vote and didn’t see Bill’s name,” said the spokeswoman, Lindsay Hobson. “So they filled in the only Walker they saw.”
The apparent result was that Walker -- the Libertarian candidate -- racked up pockets of support all across the state.
Now, the Libertarians are trying to track Thom Walker down to see what his intentions are. They’ve sent emissaries to his Fairbanks address -- no luck there -- and Chambers said he’d phoned “probably 15 times.”
“He never returns the calls,” said Chambers. “We can’t track him at all. I don’t even know if this person exists.”
An employee at the Toolik Field Station, where Walker is an assistant manager of operations, said Walker was not there and declined to answer questions.
Two friends said Walker was traveling in the remote Brooks Range in the northern part of the state, and unreachable. Both declined to give their names -- one because of his involvement in politics, and another who runs a small business and was fearful of being deluged with telephone calls from Libertarians trying to track down Walker.
Fish said he could foresee two possible scenarios unfolding over the next few weeks. One is that Walker “will continue to do nothing, and continue to be a recluse.”
The other option, Fish said, is if the Libertarian Party can contact Walker to ask him to step aside -- but there’s not much time left. Alaska law allows candidates to withdraw from the ballot and for parties to choose a replacement up to 64 days before a general election, which makes this year’s deadline Sept. 2.
“We can’t let this happen,” Fish said. “We can’t just serve at the whim of, essentially, the ignorant vote.”
Chambers said he thinks Walker’s candidacy may have been a “straw horse” set up by “loyal opposition,” otherwise known as the Republican Party. Libertarians tend to draw votes away from Republican candidates more than from Democrats, and if Walker ends up as the Libertarian nominee this fall but doesn’t run a campaign, then he’s less of a concern for Sullivan, Chambers said.
“They convinced somebody that had that last name because they thought, ‘Well, he’ll get a bunch of votes and then we won’t have to worry about the Libertarians,’” Chambers said.
A spokesman for Sullivan, Mike Anderson, said in an emailed statement that “Dan congratulates Mr. Walker on his win in the Libertarian primary on Tuesday and looks forward to a healthy exchange of ideas with all of his opponents.”
But Anderson added that Sullivan’s campaign had “no involvement whatsoever” in Walker’s candidacy.
Fish is now floating the idea of a write-in campaign on a conservative Facebook group. And local pollsters are left to gauge the impact of Walker’s presence on November’s general election ballot.
One of them, Ivan Moore, said voters could remain confused and pick Thom Walker in the U.S. Senate race, thinking he’s actually Bill Walker. Since Bill Walker is a Republican running as an independent, Thom Walker is more likely to draw votes away from Sullivan, the Republican candidate, Moore said.
But consideration should also be given to “disaffected Libertarians” who refuse to vote for Thom Walker, Moore said. Those Libertarians are more likely to choose Sullivan than Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and could cancel out the impact of the first group.
“It’ll probably be a wash in the end,” Moore said. “You can speculate and you can guess at the answer, but you don’t really know.”
If Walker stays in the race, he’ll add one more strange twist to a general election ballot that already features two Dan Sullivans -- the Senate candidate, and another who’s running for lieutenant governor.
“Now we’ve got two Walkers,” Moore said. “Excellent.”
Asked if the Walkers could end up campaigning together, Hobson, the spokeswoman for Bill Walker, said she didn’t know. She said she looked for Walker’s campaign page to learn more about him, but found nothing.
“We’ve had no contact with him,” she said. “We’re in the same boat as everyone else.”