As Alaska's gubernatorial race shapes up to be a three-way contest, one of the state's largest labor groups is facing a split decision in which of two union-friendly candidates to support.

Both independent Gov. Bill Walker and his Democratic challenger, former Anchorage mayor and U.S. senator Mark Begich, are courting the labor vote. They're likely to face off in the general election against the winner of the Republican primary, who will be chosen from a seven-candidate field including former state senator Mike Dunleavy and former lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell.

The choice between Walker and Begich is a tough one for Vince Beltrami, president of the Alaska AFL-CIO. He says the two men need to join forces - or one of them needs to drop out.

“Neither of those two candidates can win in a three-way race,” Beltrami said.

Beltrami is worried about the results of a Monday poll the union paid for, which shows Dunleavy winning a three-way gubernatorial election with 32 percent of the vote against Begich and Walker who each come in at 28 percent. Some 12 percent of the polled voters were undecided.

On Wednesday, pollster Ivan Moore visited KTVA to discuss the state's gubernatorial field as it nears the primary elections.

“I've been in three-way races before and been victorious," Begich said. "We look forward to the campaign unfolding.”

“We're running our campaign like it's going be a three-way race right to the very end,” said Walker.

That's not what Beltrami wants to hear. While he hasn't yet asked Walker or Begich to drop out of the race, he's hopeful they might duplicate the political coup which helped Walker unseat incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell in 2014: the "unity ticket" formed by Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, the Democratic candidate who joined Walker as his running mate.

“Four years ago we had the same exact dynamic, basically, and to quote the old baseball player Yogi Berra, 'It's deja vu all over again,’" Beltrami said. "It's the very same situation."

Walker, however, has hinted that this year may be different.

“We're in it to win it, and so we're staying the course,” Walker said.

Walker received the AFL-CIO's endorsement in 2014, but it hasn't made a new one in this race. Meanwhile, Begich doesn't seem too worried.

“Memberships of these organizations will decide on their own as individuals, and we're not going to wait around for a bunch of special-interest groups,” Begich said.

Beltrami says that given time, just about anything can happen in politics and elections.

“That doesn't mean it can't turn into a two-person race,” he said.

The AFL-CIO will do another poll closer to the Aug. 21 primary to see if the numbers have changed.

Late August is also when the unions will hold their convention. To give out another endorsement, two-thirds of members must agree on a candidate.

Copyright 2018 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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