Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Begich made a campaign stop Thursday in Juneau, speaking to about 45 people at the local IBEW union hall.
As attendees munched on pizza, Begich tried to distance himself from his principal challengers in this year’s gubernatorial race: independent incumbent Bill Walker and former state senator Mike Dunleavy, who is viewed as the leading Republican candidate.
The former U.S. senator entered the race just hours before the filing deadline, and in Juneau — one of Alaska’s Democratic strongholds — his task will be to convince voters to select him over Walker.
“I believe I can win,” Begich said. “I don’t get into races to lose.”
For more than an hour, he answered questions from the audience and explained how his experience as a former Anchorage mayor prepares him to be governor. Begich attempted to draw parallels between Anchorage’s situation when he was elected mayor in 2003, and Alaska’s situation today.
At the time, Begich said, Anchorage faced a severe budget crisis, and voters lacked confidence in their municipal government. He managed to fix those problems, he asserted, and claimed that he can do the same for Alaska at large.
In House District 33, which includes downtown Juneau and Douglas Island, there were more than 6,200 votes for Begich in his unsuccessful 2014 race for U.S. Senate. Eventual winner, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, received just 2,600.
But this time around, Juneau’s streets are dotted with signs for Gov. Bill Walker, and a fundraiser for Walker at the home of Democratic supporter Mark Choate attracted a bigger crowd than was present Thursday night for Begich. Where that fundraiser had plenty of Walker paraphernalia to distribute to supporters, Begich’s table was bare Thursday night.
Michelle Sydeman, who worked this year in the Alaska Legislature for Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, told Begich she’s undecided, and she told the Empire she’s certainly noticed a lot of Walker signs around town.
Begich pointed to a recent poll conducted by the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, which found him in second place in a three-way contest among Dunleavy, Walker and himself.
Walker’s poll numbers are declining, and Dunleavy’s are stagnant, Begich said, implying that his position is improving.
The statewide primary election is Aug. 21.
If Dunleavy and Begich are their parties’ choice, they would advance to the Nov. 6 general election against Walker.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or 523-2258.