It's getting weird in Alaska.
Gubernatorial campaigns in the Lower 48 have followed a cut-and-paste template on government spending: Republicans accuse Democrats of wasting taxpayer dollars and planning to hike taxes, while Democrats accuse Republicans of planning to cut voters' favorite social services.
In Alaska, Republican Gov. Sean Parnell is flipping the script, accusing his opponent—independent Bill Walker—of planning to cut too deeply into government spending.
In Parnell's latest campaign ad, a narrator attacks Walker, who was a registered Republican until September, for promising "to cut the state budget by 16 percent, but he won't say what he'll cut." Over the sound of a cartoon buzz saw, the narrator asks: "Will Walker cut schools?"
It's another odd twist in a race that has strayed far from the typical partisan lines. Former Gov. Sarah Palin—a staunch conservative and tea-party favorite—endorsed the Walker ticket, which includes a Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. The move was another step in a political divorce, as Parnell was Palin's lieutenant governor when she ran the state.
At the heart of the dispute Parnell's management of the state budget, a question complicated by a 2013 restructuring of oil and gas production taxes and the current plummet in energy prices. Parnell's camp argues the taxes have protected the state budget from the price dive, but Walker argues he's coming under attack for trying to fix a problem Parnell created. And the challenger says he hasn't committed to a specific figure for cuts.
It's unclear whether Parnell's last-minute ads will reach many Alaskan voters, as the state's Senate race is flooding the airwaves with ads and leaving little room for new media buys. Buys that are made at this point come at a high price. The Parnell ad is running only in the Juneau market, which reaches approximately 12 percent of Alaska voters.
Alaska Democratic Party spokesman Zack Fields said on Monday that the party's internal media monitoring tallies show that a newly formed group called Citizens Against Walker is spending at least $850,000 on anti-Walker broadcast and cable TV ads during the final two weeks, but inefficient October rates don't translate into much air time. The group, which has ties to the Republican Governors Association, spent $150,000 to run just 30 spots this week on one Anchorage TV station, at a rate of roughly $5,000 per spot.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the root cause of Alaska's projected budget deficit. It was caused by several factors, and is not necessarily or exclusively tied to the new oil and gas tax structure.