ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CN) – Gov. Bill Walker announced a suspension of his re-election campaign at the start of what was to be a candidates’ forum at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage Friday.
Standing with his wife Donna and other family members at his side, Walker shocked the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at what is one of the nation’s largest gatherings of native people.
“In the time remaining it’s become clear we cannot win a three-way race. Every decision I’ve made as your governor, I’ve made on the basis of what I believe is best for Alaska. With that said, effective today I am suspending my campaign for reelection as governor,” he said.
Walker’s news comes on the heels of accepting the resignation of his Lt. Governor, Byron Mallott on Tuesday, for making inappropriate comments to a woman.
Walker and his staff refused to say what, how and to whom the comments were made.
The campaign was already tough going for the incumbent as his popularity took repeated hits for what he termed as making the tough decisions to reduce the state’s more than $3 billion budget deficit.
Cutting the annual oil dividends checks to every Alaska resident was one of the least supported decisions that shadowed much of Walker’s achievement in bringing the budget shortfall down to $2.5 billion.
The entry of one-term Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich on June 1 caused even more of a threat to re-election.
Polls since have shown Republican candidate Mike Dunleavy as a likely winner with Begich and Walker splitting voters at the ballot box. Both campaigns were reportedly meeting to discuss “a path forward” to reduce Dunleavy’s chances.
With Walker’s announcement, he threw his support toward Begich explaining that there are more policy areas where they agree than disagree. Walker stated fears of losing the expansions he has made in Medicaid and in reducing the fiscal deficits, among those threatened by a Dunleavy win.
Walker and his family were kept on stage for what became a series of impromptu goodbyes by representatives of each Alaska Native tribe in attendance. Many speakers expressed appreciation for the governor’s efforts on their behalf.
Following the heartfelt goodbyes, the candidates’ forum resumed with debates between Democrat Alysse Galvin and incumbent Republican Rep. Don Young for Alaska’s at-large U.S. House seat, and Begich and Dunleavy for governor.