Democrat Pat Hawkins, candidate for Senate District Q on the Kenai Peninsula, announced Friday he is dropping out of the four-way race and tossing his support to Republican Moderate Tom Wagoner in an effort to unseat the Republican incumbent, Sen. Jerry Ward.
Reached late Saturday afternoon, Wagoner was clearly astounded and delighted in the news, saying it would boost his candidacy. He said he knows how hard a decision it must have been for Hawkins.
Also informed of Hawkins' decision Saturday, Ward said the race now presented voters with a clear choice, but he never hinted at being worried.
The race for the two-year Senate term also includes Green Party of Alaska candidate Thomas Stroman, who has not been much of a presence in the race.
Hawkins faced an uphill battle against Ward and Wagoner who were doing much better at attracting voters and donations. He said he'd learned that a recent small-sample poll showed him a distant third. He did not know who had done the poll.
"I was in the race to beat Jerry Ward," he said. "But I'm falling further behind Tom Wagoner and Jerry Ward."
Hawkins also has health problems. He's had two surgeries in six weeks for kidney stones and faces two more in the near future, he said. That, his falling poll numbers and an inability to raise the kind of funds available to Ward and Wagoner led to his decision to withdraw, he said.
"It was a tough decision for myself and my wife to make," he said. "I didn't want to at first. I have my principles."
Those principles, however, included a desire to see Ward unseated Nov. 5, he said. In dropping out, Hawkins hopes to see that happen. He said he would "cross party lines" and vote for Wagoner and would encourage his "solid supporters" to do the same. Hawkins said he thinks if that happens, Wagoner could beat Ward.
Hawkins said Ward neither represents peninsula voters' interests nor considers the peninsula his home, despite establishing residency in a Nikiski trailer as far as the Alaska Division of Elections is concerned.
"It's legal, but it's not ethical," Hawkins said. "The deal is Anchorage wants an Anchorage senator down here on the Kenai."
Ward currently represents Senate District E, which includes south Anchorage. Senate E will cease to exist in the next Legislature. Ward established residency in Nikiski in late May of 2001 in order to be able to run for the new Senate District Q, which was created during redistricting. Nevertheless, Ward's allegiances have been a campaign issue.
"We need local representation on the Kenai Peninsula -- someone who lives and works here," Hawkins said. "Tom Wagoner works here and lives here and will make a terrific senator. Even though I'm a democrat, I'm crossing party lines."
It's not like the Alaska Democratic Party did much for Hawkins in the money department.
"I haven't gotten support from the Democratic Party in Anchorage," Hawkins said. "I thought I was talking the issues and telling the truth. But I can't fight Jerry Ward's money machine."
Hawkins said he dumped $5,500 of his own money into his campaign so far, including the primary race, and has raised around $2,000 more.
Ward, meanwhile, has raised $101,419 and spent $78,799 on his effort to win re-election, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Compared to that, even Wagoner pales. The Republican Moderate has raised $16,724 and spent $11,448. Still, that's better than twice Hawkins' campaign chest.
Wagoner said Saturday, however, that he must be pulling closer to Ward in popularity because he's starting to see more donations to his campaign.
"As far as the money goes, it's unfortunate that politics is that way," Hawkins said.
Stroman, meanwhile, has raised and spent so little that he is exempt from APOC campaign finance disclosure requirements.
Tammy Troyer, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party said the party has done what it could for peninsula candidates, but there are stark realities to be faced in an election year that includes a gubernatorial race.
"I'm sure that Pat understands. Any gubernatorial year is tough for legislative candidates. A large amount of effort has gone to help Fran Ulmer.
"The Democratic Party has less money in general than the Republicans," she continued. "There are more Republicans out there than Democrats. We face that challenge as well."
Troyer said some party candidates have received financial help. She noted one important contest between Democrat Hollis French who is trying to unseat Sen. Dave Donley in the race for Senate District M in Anchorage.
Hawkins said if his health permits, he would work for Wagoner's victory over Ward during the final week of the campaign.
"I think the people who voted for me will vote for Tom," he said. "The election is that close."
Hawkins said he might consider running for the Kenai Peninsula Assembly or the Kenai Peninsula Board of Education in the future.
Informed of Hawkins' decision and that the Democrat was going to throw his support behind Wagoner, Ward joked.
"He's not voting for me? I thought for sure Pat would vote for me." Ward said.
Turning more serious, Ward said voters now have a choice.
"It's a clear choice between a conservative Republican and the liberals who want to take the money away from the people for more government," he said. "I have a six-year record representing the Kenai Peninsula. People know where I stand, and I hope the people will re-elect me.
"I'm running for re-election because I've continually protected the permanent fund, I've opposed a sales tax and an income tax, and I believe government should be smaller," he said.
Wagoner had no problem expressing his emotions.
"Wow! That's pretty major, isn't it?" he said when he learned the news. "I'm pretty happy over that. That is going to help my candidacy quite a bit.
"That's probably one of the hardest decisions Pat has had to make in his life. I didn't expect that."
Wagoner said he and Hawkins often saw issues differently, but one thing they did agree on was that from their perspectives, Ward doesn't represent the peninsula.
Wagoner said the first thing he was going to do was call Hawkins, thank him and tell him how much he appreciated his endorsement.
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