Alaska campaign roundup: Gara and Walker’s ranked-choice strategy, cash flows to governor’s race, missing invitation at a GOP rally

It’s just a few days until the Nov. 8 general election and almost 44,000 Alaskans have already voted. Candidates and groups are required to post financial disclosure documents seven days out from the election. From here on out, donations must be disclosed daily. Here is a wrap up of the campaigns in the final sprint until Election Day:

The final question at a lunchtime forum for gubernatorial candidates was one the moderator said might be a new one for Democrat Les Gara and independent Bill Walker: “You each ranked yourself first and the other second. What role do you see for the other one if you win the election?”

Walker joked that he’d accept a gracious concession speech, but had no specific role in mind for Gara. Gara said neither wanted a job from the other. Still, the question was a response to the deliberate and unusual strategy of the two campaigns — to prevent the appearance of deep divisions with one another in favor of collaborating to defeat the incumbent, Republican Mike Dunleavy.

Last week, the campaigns went as far as to jointly release an ad urging voters to rank them first and second. The ad features Gara’s running mate Jessica Cook, and Walker’s running mate Heidi Drygas. On Tuesday, Walker called the tactic “a little unheard of.”

“The fact that we’re willing to stand up and say rank each other second, I think says something about the two of us, about how we feel about this,” Walker said at Tuesday’s forum, which was hosted by Anchorage Rotary.

“I can live with whatever risk we might be taking by doing what we’re doing, which is a little unprecedented. But, boy, the risk of four more years of what we’ve seen, that is a risk I can’t take,” said Walker.

Gara and Walker both said the strategy involves calling less attention to their differences with one another in the run-up to Election Day.


“Our focus is totally on the incumbent and not on each other so much,” Walker said.

“Bill and I, for whatever differences we have, realized that Mike Dunleavy is the extremist in this race. And Alaska would be better served, in my view, by me. But if not me, then Bill,” Gara said. “I think Bill and I have decided, we’ll take 30 degrees of separation instead of 5,000 degrees of separation, which is what Gov. Dunleavy is.”

Neither Dunleavy nor Republican candidate Charlie Pierce participated in the Rotary Forum. Dunleavy, who has participated in far fewer debates and forums than Gara and Walker, has said the work of being governor has taken precedence.

Gara, who said he and Walker have faced each other at debates so often that they can do each other’s speeches, offered one point of clarity before Tuesday’s forum ended. “I think I’m the best candidate in this race,” he told an audience of about 60 people. “I’m ranking myself first. I just want you to know that. But I’m ranking Bill and Heidi second.”

Before the event began, Walker said considering how to earn second-choice votes is “the secret sauce of ranked-choice voting.”

“I know that I need as many of his second votes as I possibly can,” he said.

Walker said he has taught classes and spoken at conferences about how democracy can “rise above the party fray.” Alaska’s new election system could prove to be one influential way, he said.

“The country is watching this election very closely. Nevada obviously is, and other states are considering ranked-choice voting,” Walker said.

“A lot of eyes are on Alaska, not just for who gets elected, but for the election process as well,” he said.

— Marc Lester

Money flows in race for governor

A week before Election Day, gubernatorial candidates reported continued windfalls of cash, after a court decision and lack of legislative action left Alaska without any campaign contribution limits.

Independent former Gov. Bill Walker reported raising more than $338,000 in the three-week reporting period that began a month before the election. The majority of that sum came from a single Texas couple: $200,000 from philanthropists John and Laura Arnold, supporters of Alaska’s ranked choice voting system. Walker’s other top financial backers include New York investor Jason Carrol — another ranked choice voting advocate who gave Walker $50,000.

Walker’s haul was more than double the amounts raised in the reporting period by other gubernatorial candidates Democrat Les Gara and Republican incumbent Mike Dunleavy. But Dunleavy still had the most cash in his campaign account with a week to go until the election.

Dunleavy, who raised $121,000 in the reporting period, had $273,000 in the bank, compared to Walker’s $163,000 and Gara’s $196,000.

Dunleavy’s largest contribution during the reporting period came from John Nau, a Texas beverage company executive who gave $20,000.

Gara reported raising $152,000, but $30,000 of that came from the Walker campaign to cover a joint ad produced by the campaigns.

Anchorage attorney Robin Brena gave $15,000 each to both Walker and Gara. Brena helped represent the winners of the recent campaign finance litigation that did away with the state’s previously strict campaign contribution limits.


A fourth candidate for governor, Republican former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce — who now faces a sexual assault lawsuit from a borough employee — raised $900 and has $3,300 in the bank.

A Stronger Alaska, an independent expenditure group supporting Dunleavy, faces a complaint alleging that it is illegally operating as a shell entity for the Republican Governors Association. The Alaska Public Offices Commission warned the group last month against spending money while an investigation is ongoing. The group, which had $2.4 million in its account, reported spending $77,000 on polling two days after the warning was issued by the commission. But the group has not spent money since then.

In the reporting period, the Walker campaign reported spending more than $280,000 on television and streaming advertising. The campaign also spent more than $80,000 on mailers, more than $50,000 on Facebook advertising, and more than $30,000 on Google advertising.

The Gara campaign spent more than $120,000 on direct mail, nearly $80,000 on television advertising, and $60,000 on social media advertising.

The Dunleavy campaign reported more than $110,000 on “voter engagement.” They also spent more than $120,000 on advertising.

Jordan Shilling, Dunleavy’s campaign manager who previously worked for the campaign on a volunteer basis while getting paid for work at the governor’s office, was paid $15,000 by the campaign on Oct. 28. It was the second payment Shilling received from the campaign. He was paid $10,000 on Oct. 3, days after his $50,000 contract with the governor’s office ended.

Dunleavy’s campaign calendar has remained sparse even as Election Day is nearing. Asked on Tuesday if the governor had any campaign events planned before the election, Dunleavy’s campaign spokesperson Andrew Jensen did not respond.

Dunleavy has used his official duties to explain his absence from the campaign trail. The governor on Tuesday shared on social media that he returned from a two-day trip visiting communities in western Alaska impacted by the September storm that caused widespread flooding and damage. Dunleavy has used footage filmed during his trips to Western Alaska in campaign advertisements.


— Iris Samuels

Missing invitation at GOP rally

The Alaska Republican Party is hosting and paying for a get out the vote rally at the Anchorage Baptist Temple on Sunday afternoon, featuring GOP candidates and Rick “Rydell” Green as the MC.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has top billing as an invited guest alongside gubernatorial candidate Charlie Pierce, who is facing a sexual harassment lawsuit from his time as Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor. Trump-endorsed U.S. Senate Candidate Kelly Tshibaka has been invited, but incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski has not. Tshibaka scored the state GOP’s endorsement, while the party has censured Murkowski for her impeachment vote of the former president.

Begich III was invited after being endorsed by the party for his congressional race. Conspicuous in her absence from the billing was fellow U.S. House candidate Sarah Palin.

Palin, who has former President Donald Trump’s prized endorsement, appeared on former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s radio show “War Room” Friday and bristled against missing out.

Although she has long clashed with the state GOP establishment, Palin claimed her ostracization was due to ranked-choice voting and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s support of Murkowski’s reelection bid.

Palin may not have been invited to Sunday’s rally at the Anchorage Baptist Temple, but the self-confessed “token Trumpster” did post a video on social media Sunday, showing her attending a service at the church.

— Sean Maguire

Putting Alaskans First

Putting Alaskans First Committee, an independent expenditure group run by the Alaska AFL-CIO, posted its latest campaign disclosure report Tuesday.

The group raised just under $485,000 over the past three weeks and $1.2 million in total. It has spent almost $1.1 million to boost left-leaning legislative candidates, and to oppose Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s reelection bid. Since late September, Putting Alaskans First has gotten more than $320,000 from Unite America, an organization based out of Denver, Colorado that supports implementing ranked choice voting and open primaries across the U.S. as a way to end partisan gridlock.

Kathryn Murdoch is a co-chair of Unite America’s board and a daughter-in-law of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Kathryn Murdoch is the wife of Rupert Murdoch’s younger son, James. Murdoch was part of an organization that spent almost $2 million in Alaska two years ago to support Ballot Measure 2, which overhauled the state’s election system. Now, Unite America, and affiliated big-money donors are hoping to protect it from being repealed.

Like Super PACs at a federal level, Putting Alaskans First is prohibited from coordinating with candidates it supports, but it is boosting left-leaning and centrist candidates, with hopes to form bipartisan coalitions in the state House and Senate.


Putting Alaskans First also got a $200,000 donation Friday from a national workers group, the Laborers International Union of North America. And it has got support from Alaska’s teachers union and other education advocacy groups.

President of the Alaska AFL-CIO Joelle Hall, who heads Putting Alaskans First, said there is an overlap between candidates who are pro-labor, support bipartisan coalitions and want to keep the state’s new voting system intact.

Last week, the group spent $50,000 to boost moderate Republican Sens. Gary Stevens and Click Bishop as they run for reelection in Kodiak and Fairbanks against more conservative opponents. That follows a long list of moderates and progressives the group has supported in key legislative contests. Hall said Friday that the bulk of the new donations would be used for television advertisements against Dunleavy. The group has authored “Dump Dunleavy” mailers and ads, and it will now expand on those with a focus on school funding, she said.

Right-leaning independent expenditure groups and legislative candidates have been notably out-raised in most instances this cycle. But Alaska’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative free market advocacy group, reported a $198,000 donation Tuesday from its national umbrella organization. The Alaska group, headed by Bernadette Wilson, has been door-knocking for Republican Nick Begich III as he runs for Congress. Requests for comment where this latest windfall will be spent went unanswered.

— Sean Maguire

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the day of a Republican Party rally at the Anchorage Baptist Temple. It’s Sunday not Saturday.


Marc Lester

Marc Lester is a multimedia journalist for Anchorage Daily News. Contact him at mlester@adn.com.

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.

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at smaguire@adn.com.