The state's top union official said Wednesday he doesn't believe the Alaska AFL-CIO will endorse anyone for governor if the two leading challengers to Gov. Sean Parnell can't agree to merge their campaigns, with one becoming the other's lieutenant governor.
With Democrat Byron Mallott so far having failed to catch fire among Alaskans and Bill Walker running a strong -- but losing -- race as an independent, polls have shown that Republican Parnell would cruise to re-election in a three-way contest in November.
"We don't have an interest in getting involved in a race that doesn't have a real good, odds-on chance of beating Parnell," said Vince Beltrami, president of the state umbrella labor organization. "Unless and until Walker and Mallott can figure out how to come together on a ticket, I don't think the AFL-CIO will be interested in taking up an endorsement in that race."
The AFL-CIO will hold its annual convention in Fairbanks starting Thursday, and Walker and Mallott are both scheduled to attend.
"They're each going to come up, they're each going to speak to us. What I just said is my opinion and I have 110 delegates that might have a different opinion, but that's part of the discussion," Beltrami said.
In interviews Wednesday, Mallott said he's in the race as a Democrat till the last vote is cast on on Election Day. Walker said he'd drop out if opinion polls showed that someone else could beat Parnell, but he insisted he's the only one who can win in a head-to-head contest.
The AFL-CIO delegates are scheduled to attend a closed-door session Friday afternoon for candidate and ballot-measure endorsements, Beltrami said. The AFL-CIO can make a difference in a campaign, especially if its endorsement brings along other unions with plenty of members who can volunteer their time.
Walker, reached in Anchorage before he travels to Fairbanks on Thursday morning, said he's been hearing "lots of stuff" from people who want him to join forces with Mallott.
"People come up to me daily and say, 'You've got to make a deal,' but I've never been part of any deal-making discussion," Walker said.
He often has conversations with Mallott when the two meet on the campaign trail, but they've avoided talking about joining forces, he said.
"It's awkward," Walker said. He said he wouldn't agree to a deal in which Mallott would run as his lieutenant governor unless his ticket mate, Craig Fleener, would agree to step down.
"A deal is not two people, it's four people," Walker said. "I'm not big throw-people-under-the-bus kind of guy -- that's not how I do stuff."
Walker said he would quit the race if he couldn't beat Parnell but Mallott, alone, could.
"For me, it's nothing to do with ego. I'm not doing this because I have a political itch or I have to be governor. I am horrified with what we're doing as a state. I think Parnell is a horrible governor and he got us on absolutely the wrong path," Walker said.
If there's somebody that can come forward and shows the numbers that they can beat Parnell, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing," he said. "There's been some head-to-head polls with me and Parnell and there's one point difference. And the poll with Byron, he was about 20 points down."
And a three-way race?
"It does make it a much steeper climb, there's no question about it," Walker said.
Mallott said he didn't believe the two-way poll numbers cited by Walker, but it didn't matter anyway.
"It's not going to be a two-way race," Mallott said. "I am the Democratic candidate for governor, one of the two major parties. I will stay in the race until it's over."
Though Walker is running as an independent, he's a long-term Republican who lost to Parnell in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary, Mallott noted.
"He is clearly a Republican," Mallott said. "The reality is that you have two Republicans and a single Democrat and in that kind of scenario, I think my chances are good."
Mallott said it's true that he hasn't sparked the imaginations of a broad cross section of Alaska, but that's understandable.
"Who has caught fire in this race, with the air sucked out of the room by the Senate race?" Mallott said. "It's damn early -- we have a long way to go."
Now that Republicans have picked a U.S. Senate candidate, the contentious referendum on oil taxes has been decided, and voters have given him a running mate -- state Sen. Hollis French -- the race for governor will begin in earnest, Mallott said.
"I've been traveling the state constantly; I've been to every region in the state other than Bristol Bay and the Aleutian Chain and I intend to get out there very soon. I've been at it for 10 full months. We're working hard on getting out the vote, we'll begin a media campaign," Mallott said. "I believe that I've been working very hard and it's going to pay off."
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Craig Fleener's name.