Publsihed August 14, 2016
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports
Could social media be a tool used to propel a successful candidacy? Of course not. At least that’s what people say. After all: Politics has always been done this way.
But Alaska might be different and Edgar Blatchford is staking out an unconventional approach. He’s running for the United States Senate in a race that includes Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She has already raised nearly $2.5 million in her re-election bid.
“The idea in this campaign was that no one wanted to file as a Democrat,” Blatchford said. Since then two other candidates, Richard Grayson and Ray Metcalfe, have been added to the August 16th ballot as Democrats. And the winner of the Democratic primary will go on to face at least three other candidates in the general election, a Republican, a Libertarian, and an Independent. Blatchford is Yupik and the only Native American running for the U.S. Senate. He has a resume worth considering: Mayor of Seward, Alaska, professor, owner of a newspaper chain, chief executive officer of a what is now Chugach Native Corporation, and he served in a governor’s cabinet.
“We are close to our senators. Alaska is a small state and we have lots of contact with federal officials,” Blatchford said. “If we elect a Republican Senate, you have to presume it will be anti-Indian. Why would we elect a Republican senator who will have to fight her own caucus for basic Constitutional rights? If we elect Democrats, it would be a part of the progressive agenda, it would be a part of the deal. Why would we fight from the outside, when we can be on the inside and be a part of the agenda?”
Blatchford said Murkowski must come up with a rationale to convince her own Republican caucus to support Alaska Native issues. “Donald Trump is hard to explain away. We watch what’s happening, we see it all on social media, but somehow Alaskans don’t see the connection between Lisa Murkowski and the Republican party’s leader,” he said, adding that it’s time for her to disassociate herself with Trump.
“I am connecting with the people in rural Alaska” he says, and one of the reasons is that he is championing “Native American sovereignty; Alaska Natives addressing their own problems.”
But too often, he said, the first question folks ask: “How much money have you raised? Not whether I am a Democrat, Republican, or what I believe. I have nothing.”
In a video presentation on YouTube, Blatchford said he is “not interested” in raising millions of dollars from corporations and transnational interests that have a different agenda for Alaska. “I am interested in representing you in the United States Senate, only Alaskans.”
To get his message out Blatchford relies on social media where he spends “late hours” connecting with people around the state. He said he’s also driving to as many places he can and speaking in communities reachable by road.
A recent twist in Alaska politics is the idea of a candidate running as an independent instead of as a Democrat. This strategy is worked for Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. And attorney Margaret Stock is pursuing that route in this election. There will also be a Libertarian on the ballot. So voters will have a choice between four candidates come November.
Blatchford said Democrats should not abandon their party. “This is a presidential year,” he said. “Why would you abandon the Democratic nominee for President of the United States who is so sensitive to minorities, the poor, and to Native Americans. We ought to grab on to her, promote her programs, and her progressive policies. I am embracing Hillary Clinton.”
Will social media be enough? We will learn the answer, at least in part, on Tuesday.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports
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