How It Really Happened: The Walker/Mallott Ticket

How It Really Happened: The Walker/Mallott Ticket

Sudden twists of fate make great political theater. In the rise of Bill Walker, Alaska’s unlikely next governor, it was a missed airplane flight on the Friday before Labor Day.

Mr. Walker, a 63-year-old businessman and lawyer who last held elective office in the 1970s, as mayor of the small town of Valdez, was running as an independent candidate with no party, little money and almost no chance of victory going into that holiday weekend two months before Election Day, people in both parties said.

The incumbent governor, Sean Parnell, a Republican in a right-leaning state, was facing two opponents on the ballot – Mr. Walker and a Democrat, Byron Mallott – who would most likely split the state’s moderates and liberals. And he had the wind in his sails, with support for Republicans here and across the nation surging. Re-election to a second full term looked like a walk.

But that Friday morning, just a few days before a state deadline to make any changes to the ballot, Mr. Walker missed his flight from Anchorage for a campaign swing to the rural community of Bethel, in far western Alaska, where he would have no cellphone coverage. As he fumed at the airport, he called Mr. Mallott.

Was there any way, he asked, they might combine forces? “I told him I wanted to be able to look at my supporters on Nov. 4 and say I did everything I could,” Mr. Walker said in an interview.

Mr. Mallott, 71, a Native Alaskan of Tlingit heritage, and a former mayor of Juneau, had been soul searching on his own. He had taken a long walk alone near his home, he said in an interview, and concluded that neither he nor Mr. Walker had any hope of winning alone. But he was also suddenly resolved that defeating Mr. Parnell, who turned 52 after the election, was an absolute priority, and that together they might have a chance.

So in what may be perhaps the great thunderclap example of ego-control in the 2014 elections, in this or any state, Mr. Mallott said he would forfeit the Democratic Party nomination for governor and join forces with Mr. Walker on the independent ballot line as Mr. Walker’s lieutenant governor candidate.

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