Walker, Gara running mates release joint ad in late-campaign effort to replace Dunleavy

In an unprecedented move tailor-made for Alaska’s new voting system, two different campaigns for governor on Friday released a joint ad urging voters to rank them either first or second — regardless of the order.

It’s not a new message for independent candidate former Gov. Bill Walker and Democratic candidate former state Rep. Les Gara. Both Walker and Gara for months have indicated that they would vote for the other candidate second. But it’s the first time their campaigns have indicated as much in an ad jointly produced by the two campaigns.

The new ad features their candidates for lieutenant governor — Heidi Drygas, who is running with Walker, and Jessica Cook, who is running with Gara.

“We are uniting because our teams agree — Alaska can’t afford four more years of Mike Dunleavy,” Drygas said. Drygas and Cook cite education funding, the Marine Highway System and abortion access as key issues on which they agree — and where they diverge from Dunleavy, the republican incumbent.

Both tickets have emphasized increasing funding for education and preserving abortion access. Meanwhile, Dunleavy has defended his record of stagnant K-12 education funding, substantial cuts to the university system, and his support for changes to the state constitution that could remove protections for abortion access.

“As mothers we’re committed to fighting for our daughters,” Cook says. “Reproductive freedom is on the ballot,” says Drygas.

The ad comes as a last ditch effort with less than two weeks to go until Election Day. Polling throughout the weeks leading up to the election has shown Dunleavy in the lead.


[Full coverage of the 2022 Alaska general election]

Still, the campaigns are sticking to their earlier pitches about why voters should choose Walker or Gara. Walker has claimed he is the only candidate who can feasibly unseat Dunleavy and work across the aisle. Gara has campaign on his purist progressive views.

Gara and Walker spent much of the earlier weeks of the campaign bickering over issues on which they largely appear to agree. Gara and Cook have said that they are the only “pro-choice” ticket in the race, a position backed by an endorsement from Planned Parenthood. But Walker has said he would set his personal “pro-life” views on abortion aside and, if elected, protect the constitutional provisions that currently allow for access to the procedure in Alaska.

[2022 Alaska voter guide: Candidate comparisons, videos of debates, voter resources, full coverage]

Abortion has become a key issues for voters in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision removing federal protections for the procedure; access to the procedure remains protected under the Alaska state constitution.

The issue of abortion access was further brought to the fore by Dunleavy’s campaign, which sent a piece of campaign mail to voters earlier this month claiming that Gara is “the only pro-choice candidate” and that Gara “is too pro-choice for Alaska.” Political observers were quick to wonder if this was part of an effort by Dunleavy to bolster Gara’s campaign among left-leaning voters. A similar tactic has been used on the other side of the political spectrum by Democrats nationwide looking to bolster right-wing Republicans they view as weaker competition.

Polls have consistently shown that Dunleavy has a better chance at beating Gara than Walker in a match-up. Dunleavy campaign spokesperson Andrew Jensen, who also works for Dunleavy’s official office, said in response to a question about the mailer that it “speaks for itself.”

“It’s so obvious what they’re doing, that they see that Dunleavy has a far better chance if he faces Les Gara in the end,” Drygas said in an interview. “The fact of the matter is that a Republican is far less likely to vote for Les Gara than they are for us. We just attract more people in the middle and in the middle-right, and this state is middle-right.”

Cook, who said she received the Dunleavy mailer at her home, said she “can’t figure out Dunleavy’s campaign strategy.”

“It was like free advertising,” she said. “I looked at it and I was like, yeah, that’s what Les stands for ... It was absolutely a mailer that our campaign did not have to fund.”

Political consultant Jim Lottsfeldt said the months of internal bickering between Walker and Gara on progressive hot button issues like abortion access and education funding have allowed Dunleavy to comfortably cruise through the campaign.

“Les Gara spent more time trying to poll better than Bill Walker, than make the case that Mike Dunleavy shouldn’t be reelected. And you could probably say the same thing about Bill Walker in reverse to Les. Those two had to contend with each other when the number one task is to make the case not to reelect Dunleavy, and so they squabbled and he waltzed,” Lottsfeldt said.

Lottsfeldt compared the relationship so far between Gara and Walker to that between Republican U.S. House candidates Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, who for months have subtly and not-so-subtly attacked each other even while instructing voters to “rank the red” in an effort to beat Democrat Rep. Mary Peltola.

“Those guys needed to unify, and basically, they’re sort of a little more pleasant version of Nick Begich and Sarah Palin,” said Lottsfeldt, who has contributed to Walker’s campaign.

While they have continued to draw attention to their differences, Drygas said the two campaigns have had “a lot” of joint conversations about their strategies to overtake Dunleavy. The outcome of those discussions, she said, has been a push to convince voters supporting both Walker and Gara to rank the other ticket second.

“The worst thing that could happen in this election is for somebody to not rank their ballot,” Drygas said. “Which really means to lose out on the opportunity to vote if your candidate is eliminated.”

The two women — rather than the men at the top of the tickets — appeared in the ad released Friday because “we really wanted to reach in particular women,” Drygas said. Both Drygas and Cook are mothers to daughters.


“We are committed to fighting for our daughters,” Cook said. “With Heidi and I both on this ad, it just makes that abundantly apparent that yes, we are fighting for our daughters’ futures.”

Dunleavy, too, has turned his three daughters into campaign talking points. He mentioned them three different times during an hour-long televised debate when discussing his positions on abortion, violence against Alaska women, and protecting transgender and marginalized students.

Jensen, the Dunleavy campaign spokesperson, said in a statement that “all this ad does is remind voter that Walker and Gara don’t have records they can run on.” Dunleavy has urged his supporters to rank second Republican Charlie Pierce, who is currently facing a sexual harassment lawsuit.

“We’re a huge part of the voter base, and this is a pivotal election for women,” Drygas said. “We’re speaking as proud mothers to say, ‘look, we need to turn things around in this state.’”

• • •

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.