Independence Party candidate withdraws from senate race

JUNEAU — Vic Kohring, who was nominated for U.S. Senate last month by the Alaskan Independence Party, withdrew his candidacy in the interest of getting a “good Republican elected.”

The departure on Tuesday of Kohring, a former state lawmaker who pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge in 2011, has left the party without a candidate. Kohring encouraged all Alaskans, regardless of political affiliation, to support Republican candidate Dan Sullivan over U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

The race has drawn national attention, with Republicans seeing Begich as vulnerable as he competes for a second term. The GOP needs to pick up six seats to win control of the Senate.

Kohring said in a statement that he didn’t want to take votes away from Sullivan “that could possibly tilt the election to Begich” and contribute to Democrats retaining control of the Senate.

The Sullivan campaign “welcomes support from all Alaskans who believe that Mark Begich must be retired in November,” spokesman Mike Anderson said by email.

Begich campaign manager Susanne Fleek-Green said the timing of Kohring’s withdrawal and endorsement smacks of an “orchestrated attempt to deliver Alaska’s U.S. Senate seat for Dan Sullivan.” Sullivan’s campaign said it was not in contact with Kohring about the move.

Kohring had switched his party affiliation from Republican to the Alaskan Independence Party in early June. He said people who supported him knew his principles were closely aligned with the GOP’s.

Gail Fenumiai, director of the Division of Elections, confirmed Wednesday that Kohring had requested his name be withdrawn from the ballot. She said no replacement candidate was offered by Tuesday’s deadline.

The chairwoman of the Alaskan Independence Party said she had just returned from a trip and could not immediately comment.

Begich has said repeatedly he expects the race to be extremely tight. Sullivan has demonstrated a fundraising prowess on par with Begich since entering the race last October.

Voters who don’t identify with a specific party make up the largest voting bloc in Alaska, and Begich and Sullivan are making a play for them. Republicans hold a huge edge over the other parties.

About 16,000 voters are registered with the Alaskan Independence Party, about twice the number of registered libertarians. There were about 133,000 registered Republicans as of early August, according to the Division of Elections.

Begich’s campaign has said it wants all party nominees included in debates. With Kohring’s exit, that would leave libertarian Mark Fish.

Fish, running on a common campaign theme of less interference by the federal government, rejected suggestion he could be a spoiler. Fish said he gets the sense people aren’t happy with just two options.

“I know I can’t compete on a money basis with Republicans and Democrats, obviously. But I do have ballot access, and I do have a voice,” he said. “And I think when people see that and hear that, word can spread and we can be taken seriously.”

Little-known independent and write-in candidates are also expected to run.

Kohring and another former state lawmaker, Pete Kott, were convicted in 2007 after being caught in a wide-ranging political corruption investigation that also ensnared then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. But the government’s handling of their cases was questioned after a judge tossed Stevens’ case due to prosecutorial errors. An appeals court made similar findings in the cases of Kott and Kohring, ordering they receive new trials.

Kott and Kohring entered plea agreements with prosecutors in 2011, with Kohring pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs that receive federal funds. They were sentenced to time served.

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