Alaska campaign roundup: Statewide candidates head to Ketchikan, a post-election fundraising windfall and a former president posts his support

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Sep. 19—America_Votes_3A.JPG-1415130763

Candidates in Alaska are campaigning in full swing for the November election. Some highlights:

Campaign money

New campaign disclosure documents released Thursday show a big post-election fundraising windfall for Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola with her raising $1.4 million between Aug. 16 and Labor Day. Her campaign said that she raked in $1 million during the first 48 hours after her special congressional election victory. Peltola has spent $470,000 since then, largely on television and radio ads, which left her with $1.1 million on hand in early September.

Over the same post-election period, Republican businessman Nick Begich III raised just $24,000. His campaign brought in $118,000 from the end of July to early September, but it spent $221,000, meaning he has started spending from the $650,000 he loaned his own campaign. Begich's campaign reported by Labor Day that it had $552,000 in the bank for the final push to November.

Former Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's financial disclosure documents don't give a neat post-Election Day fundraising summary. She reported receiving $251,000 between the end of July and Labor Day but she burned through almost all of it by spending $250,000 over the same period. She had just over $109,000 on hand at the start of September, but she also had $86,000 in debt.

Boebert and Palin

Far-right Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, a member of the Freedom Caucus, could help bring some cash into Palin's campaign coffers. She is set to come to Alaska next Saturday for a joint fundraiser with Palin at the Petroleum Club in Anchorage with proceeds set to be shared between both candidates.

Southeast debates

Candidates for statewide office traveled to Ketchikan last week for the Southeast Conference's annual meeting. The economic development organization has advocated for the Alaska Marine Highway System since its inception, and candidates across the aisle heavily touted their Southeast Alaska cred.

Thursday morning's U.S. House forum in Ketchikan saw Begich appear in person while Palin called in remotely from Wasilla. Peltola did not participate, saying that she had U.S. House votes to attend. She did call later in the day to the conference and spoke about working on federal fisheries policy and advocating for the massive oil and gas prospect, the Willow project.

During the forum, Palin said she strongly supports the Alaska Marine Highway System and she fondly remembered spending her first five years in Alaska in Skagway. Begich got the loudest applause when he suggested that a bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island, home to the city's airport, could help with a housing shortage. When she was governor, Palin killed the costly and controversial "bridge to nowhere," as she called it, and the abandoned project became national and international news during her vice presidential campaign.

Event organizers said that Libertarian House candidate Chris Bye was not invited, but that he could have come on stage if he had turned up in Ketchikan.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who grew up in Ketchikan and Wrangell, sparred with her Trump-backed challenger Kelly Tshibaka in a heated forum Tuesday morning. Tshibaka was in charge of contract negotiations when the state's largest ferry union went on strike in 2019 for the first time in 42 years. Both sides claimed a win after the new labor contract was signed.

"We won," Tshibaka said during the forum, arguing the strike had helped protect winter ferry service. "I would not sacrifice our coastal Alaskans on the altar of politics. I didn't do it then, and I'm not going to do it now."

Murkowski responded sharply that Tshibaka was then part of the Dunleavy administration, which had "misprioritized" funds, leading to service gaps and that the system in general is "still reeling." She emphasized that she had gotten more than $300 million for the state's ferries in the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, which she helped author.

Murkowski's combative stance was a notable change from two weeks ago during their first onstage meeting when she ignored Tshibaka's repeated attacks. Her campaign said that change was deliberate, and that she would be challenging "misinformation" and "lies" from Tshibaka on the infrastructure bill and the benefits it would bring Alaska.

Tshibaka, who has said she would not have voted for the infrastructure bill, said there are "loopholes" which mean Alaska could miss out on funding and that cumbersome permitting regulations could slow the money going out. She accused Murkowski of enabling Biden's agenda.

Little-known Republican Buzz Kelley wasn't in Ketchikan after he suspended his campaign earlier in the week and endorsed Tshibaka. Democrat Pat Chesbro, a former educator, was there and called for greater investment in renewable energy and schools. She ignored the fighting going on around her and said it was surprising how pointed it got between the two Republican candidates.

"I don't think it's ever good to be like that," she said by phone. "And I think people want to hear your positions, not your attacks."

Murkowski called in from Washington, D.C., the same day she attended Peltola's swearing-in. The next time all three Senate candidates are set to meet is in Kodiak on Oct. 4 for the fisheries debate, a big date on the Alaska campaign calendar.

Former Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, participated remotely in the gubernatorial forum Wednesday with former Democratic state legislator Les Gara, who was in Ketchikan. Gara and Walker shared similar Southeast-focused policy visions in many areas and they directed their ire against Republican incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who did not participate. Gara has consistently said that he will put Walker second in November's ranked-choice election, but Walker hasn't reciprocated. Last month, Walker said it was too early to make those kind of announcements.

Dunleavy is set to join Walker and Gara on stage at the Alaska Chamber of Commerce's debate in Fairbanks on Wednesday. Earlier in the week, organizers said outgoing Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce had not responded to an invitation to the Fairbanks event. Invitations to the Ketchikan forum only went to the top three finishers, and Pierce didn't attend. He said last month that he resigned from office to focus on his campaign, but the borough Assembly said earlier in the week that followed a "credible" harassment claim that was recently brought against him.

Another Trump endorsement

Former President Donald Trump, who visited Anchorage in July to campaign for Tshibaka and against Murkowski after she voted to impeach him, gave his preferred candidate another seal of approval. He posted to his own social network Wednesday in support of "the wonderful and very talented Tshibaka" and said Murkowski had "killed everything good for Alaska," referring to oil and gas leases suspended by the Biden administration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Constitutional convention campaign

Defend Our Constitution, the leading group opposing a constitutional convention, announced a long list of organizations last week joining the cause, including the Alaska Miners Association, which is concerned about land management issues, and Alaska's teacher's union, which is concerned about protecting public education. A group calling for a yes vote is focusing its campaign in support of a convention on ending legislative gridlock in the state Capitol. Organizers are planning rallies in several cities across Alaska next week when the Permanent Fund dividend is sent to thousands of Alaskans, to call for the return of "the PFD to the people."

'Ridding ourselves of ranked choice voting'

Ann Brown, chairwoman of the Alaska Republican Party, penned an opinion piece in the Daily News earlier in the week, calling on Republicans to vote strategically and support all GOP candidates in November to avoid repeating the special congressional election's results which saw only half of Begich voters rank Palin second. She said the party has heard from Republicans frustrated by the new system, but that it can't be changed before Election Day.

"Ridding ourselves of ranked choice voting and the open primary starts on Nov. 9, only after the upcoming general election," Brown said.

Conservative Republicans, including Palmer Sen. Shelley Hughes and former head of the Alaska GOP Tuckerman Babcock, who is also running for state Senate, have said they have bills ready to repeal ranked choice voting if they're elected. Hughes said the general election will be the big test of the new system's popularity.

Fundraising flurry

Legislators across the state have been holding fundraisers with seven weeks left until the November election. Alaska Democrats are campaigning "to protect the House majority coalition," which has held power for the past five years, as Republicans fight hard to form a wholly GOP majority. A similar fight is going on for the Senate, and it's expected a handful of contests will be decisive for control of both chambers before closed-door negotiations begin for who gets which key committee positions.