The filing deadline has come and gone. The table is set. Prepare for a three-headed monster of a governor's race, Alaska.
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich put the truth to long-standing rumors on Friday by jumping in the Democratic primary for governor. That move prompted incumbent Gov. Bill Walker, who is running as an independent, to bypass the party primary and focus on collecting signatures to face Begich and the Republican nominee in the November general election.
And that Republican nominee? The day began with former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla as a frontrunner but he now faces a last-minute challenge within his party primary from former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. Businessman Scott Hawkins is also a contender in that race.
See how today unfolded with our updates through the day:
6:15 P.M. UPDATE: Walker: 'We climbed that mountain before.'
Gov. Bill Walker said late Friday he's ready for the challenge of a three-way general election, with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, a Democrat, as his running mate on an independent ticket. In an interview late Friday afternoon, Walker noted he was once a little-known candidate but in 2014 beat incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.
"Now I'm sitting here as an incumbent," he said. "We climbed that mountain before, and I'm comfortable with where we are."
He said he's relieved to know who he'll be up against, after months of speculation about who might challenge him.
"Fifty-two percent of Alaskans are independent and undeclared and that's the base we draw to," he said. "Our goal is to make sure we get Alaska fixed."
He said he inherited some of the problems Alaska faces, including a budget deficit that grew worse because of the plunge in oil prices that began in summer 2014, gutting state revenue. He said his administration has slashed the budget, cutting large numbers of state-funded employees and reducing programs.
"We've gotten a lot of (problems) taken care of already and I'd like to finish up the rest of them," he said.
4:15 P.M. UPDATE: Republican Mead Treadwell joins the race for governor
Former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell said he's running in the Republican primary for governor, according to an emailed letter to supporters.
"Today, I filed the paperwork to run for Governor in this year's GOP Primary. I hadn't planned to run. Alaskans have put a lot of work into this election already. But as we approached this day, many Alaskans all over the state were unsatisfied with our choices. After much prayer, and discussion with my family, I'm running to offer Alaskans a strong, pro-business, experienced conservative choice," the letter said, with the word conservative underlined.
Treadwell said Friday by phone from Connecticut that he'll highlight his lengthy experience in business and government to win the Republican primary.
His record includes serving as lieutenant governor under Parnell starting in 2010, and as deputy commissioner for the Department of Environmental Conservation under Gov. Wally Hickel in the early 1990s.
Voters will want someone with experience for the big issues facing the state, he said.
"People will look at the whole slate of candidates and I think I've got a good shot," he said.
4 P.M. UPDATE: Begich officially joins race in three-headed battle for governor
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich announced Friday afternoon he's running for governor, following months of speculation and in the final hour of a filing deadline for the Democratic primary.
"I am running for Governor because the stakes could not be higher," Begich said in an email to supporters planned for Friday afternoon. "Alaska is my home and I will not sit back and watch our state continue to fall behind."
Begich's decision to file Friday sets up a potential three-way-race in November between Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, Begich, a Democrat, and the Republican nominee. Former state lawmaker Mike Dunleavy from Wasilla is fighting for the Republican nomination, while former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell had not yet publicly said whether he will also run, as of 4 p.m.
Begich's letter touched on key concerns in Alaska. High crime rates, unemployment and fiscal woes.
The state's biggest budget deficits followed a sharp drop in oil prices starting in 2014 that gutted state income. To help cover the hole, Walker used his line-item veto power to cut the annual Permanent Fund Dividend in half in 2016, and agreed to cuts to the dividend by the Legislature the following two years.
Begich seized on those cuts in his letter to supporters, provided by Rachel Barinbaum, who said she's a spokesperson for the Begich campaign.
"With years of out-of-control state spending, when will we stand up to politicians that want a piece of your PFD instead of solving the actual
The Republican Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association pounced on the news.
"For months, Mark Begich and Bill Walker have been more concerned with playing a political game of musical chairs with each other than actually addressing the real problems facing Alaska," the association wrote in a statement attributed to RGA spokesman David Weinman. "Now that this charade is finally over, voters can clearly see how both Begich and Walker support the same failed agenda of higher taxes, bigger government, and economic stagnation that got Alaska into its current mess.
Elisabeth Pearson, head of the DGA, said Begich's candidacy gives Democrats a strong opportunity to win the governorship.
"Mark Begich has a record of bringing people together to get things done, and he will provide a clear vision to turn around Alaska's economy," Pearson said.
3 P.M. UPDATE: What would candidate Begich mean for the Alaska governor's race?
If Begich enters the race, does that give Mike Dunleavy an edge in a three-way November showdown? Jim Lottsfeldt, a political consultant who has worked for Begich and Walker, said the numbers will be in favor of the Republican candidate, given that Alaska is a red state.
Most people view Dunleavy as the presumptive favorite in a three-way race, and Dunleavy appears to have the support of most Republicans, Lottsfeldt said.
Dunleavy has the advantage over Treadwell in the August primary, if Treadwell files for the Republican nomination, Lottsfeldt said. Dunleavy launched his campaign last year.
"I think the Treadwell campaign is too little too late," Lottsfeldt said. (Treadwell has not said if he will run.)
But Lottsfeldt also said anything can happen in a three-way general election. Dunleavy is a political unknown to most Alaskans. How the public perceives him will be a critical factor in the final outcome, he said.
Lindsay Hobson, interim spokesperson for the Walker campaign, said: "It definitely poses a challenge, but I think our message and principles have been consistent from the start, a vision for Alaska that unites people and is truly about independence. That is something we've seen resonate with Alaskans."
Asked if Begich's entry helps boost Dunleavy's chances, Hobson said she can't speculate. "There are certainly Republicans that do support the Walker-Mallott team. That's sort of the appeal (of their independent bid), they can draw from all sides and aren't necessarily limited to one party or another."
A Begich filing will change nothing for the Dunleavy campaign, including Dunleavy's chances of winning, said Brett Huber, Dunleavy campaign manager.
"We believed we'd win from the beginning or we wouldn't be running a campaign," he said.
"We'll continue to run our campaign and stay on our message," Huber said. "Mike believes he is on the right side of the issue and has a better direction to take Alaska than the track we're on."
NOON UPDATE: 'I will have an announcement by the end of the day,' Treadwell says
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich still has not filed to run for governor, while a potential Republican candidate, former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, was not saying if he will enter the race.
Asked about a website that is advertising him for governor, Treadwell said via text: "I asked for help on getting (it) under construction to be sure we could be ready. Maybe something went live prematurely."
"I will have an announcement by the end of the day," he said. He did not reply to followup questions seeking to clarify his intentions.
The website, which was first created as early 2010 and once advertised Treadwell's U.S. Senate bid, has since been removed from public view.
Gov. Bill Walker, meanwhile, wrote on Facebook today that he indeed plans to run as an independent in the general election and skip a potential primary battle with Begich.
ORIGINAL POST: Debra Call says Begich asked her to be running mate
Friday is the filing deadline for candidates to declare they intend to compete in Alaska's Aug. 21 primary election. Along with state House and Senate races, the governor's job is up for grabs.
Gov. Bill Walker plans to run for re-election, but whether he will compete in the Democratic primary depends on whether former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich enters the race. Walker has said that if Begich files to compete in the Democratic primary for governor, Walker will jump out of that primary race and run as an independent in the general election against Begich and the Republican nominee in November.
Among the indications that Begich is indeed running? Debra Call, 63, of Anchorage, visited the Division of Elections office this morning to file to run for lieutenant governor.
Call said Begich phoned her at 9 p.m. Thursday and asked her to be his running mate.
"I don't know him personally but know him professionally and have supported his candidacies in the past," Call said. "I like his vision."
Now retired, Call said she's worked for Community Enterprise Development Corp. of Alaska, now called Alaska Village Initiatives, on projects promoting rural economic development throughout Alaska.
An Alaska Native, she serves on the board of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, which provides social services to Alaska Natives in the Cook Inlet region.
Among other jobs, she's also worked as Alaska Native program manager at Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., promoting Alaska Native and local hire, she said.
Former Seward mayor and state commissioner Edgar Blatchford also has filed to run for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary.
A spokeswoman for Walker would not say whether Begich told Walker that the former two-time Anchorage mayor planned to run, but that Walker is prepared to compete in a three-way contest in November.
Walker and running mate Byron Mallott would need to gather about 3,200 signatures to get on the general election ballot. They have until the primary election on Aug. 21 to do so, and have already gathered about half the signatures, said campaign manager John-Henry Heckendorn.
Begich, a Democrat, served one term in the U.S. Senate but was defeated by Republican Dan Sullivan in 2014. Begich is the son of the late U.S. Rep. Nick Begich Sr.
Walker is a longtime Republican but dropped his party registration in September 2014 to campaign with Mallott, the Democratic nominee for governor, and receive assistance at the time from the Alaska Democratic Party.
Leading candidates for the Republican nomination for governor are former state lawmaker Mike Dunleavy from Wasilla and businessman Scott Hawkins.
Republican Rep. Mike Chenault, the former House speaker, announced Thursday night on his campaign's Facebook page that he was dropping out of contention for "personal" and other reasons. Another potential candidate in the Republican primary, businessman John Binkley of Fairbanks, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006, has said he likely will not enter the race this year.
In April, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that independent candidates can compete in partisan primary elections.