Alaska is suddenly relevant to the presidential election
© Think Stock

On Aug. 25 and 26, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior Rand Paul does not support a national minimum wage increase — and it's important to understand why Fauci to Chelsea Clinton: The 'phenomenal amount of hostility' I face is 'astounding' MORE (Ky.) will be touring Alaska, from Anchorage to Fairbanks, to meet and greet. Five days later, for the first time in his seven years and two terms in office (aside from a refueling stop in 2009), President Obama — along with Secretary of State John Kerry — lands at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage to talk about the "dangers" of climate change.

Alaska is finally on the map of presidential politics. But is it for the right reasons? And why should Americans care?

Most of us can admit the national economy ebbs and flows more often than the Bering Sea. From national defense to foreign relations, it doesn't take a Fox News debate to recognize how critical a role the next U.S. president will play in defining our nation's direction.


That's where Alaska can fit into the long-term plan, because of its innumerable layers of importance to the country.

As matter of economic growth and sustainability, per the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, when it comes to natural resource development, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has a potential of 10 billion barrels of oil, along with the National Petroleum Reserve's nearly 1 billion barrels. Offshore, beneath Arctic seas and ice, a prospective 27 billion barrels of oil awaits retrieval. Add the trillions of cubic feet of natural gas from the Alaska treasure trove and the United States can promptly secure its energy production compliments of the 49th state.

In March of this year, CBS's "60 Minutes" news program reported on the 17 rare earth elements (REE), which are used primarily for high-tech applications ranging from televisions to lasers to telescopic lenses. The crux of Lesley Stahl's report was that China boasts 90 percent of global mining, refining and production of these coveted chemical elements. What wasn't addressed is the fact that Alaska has myriad advanced mining projects — most trudging through the gauntlet of regulations and permitting layers — still not open for business. The state has six operational mines and 12 in the certification process, equating to massive amounts of gold, zinc, silver, lead and coal. Sprinkle copper, graphite and REEs onto the bounty and it's strikingly apparent the state is ripe for extraction to the benefit of America and its commerce. We're talking billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

While Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonVirginia governor's race poses crucial test for GOP Hillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race Hillary Clinton: Casting doubt on 2020 election is 'doing Putin's work' MORE has been dealing with her Email-gate dilemma, she found time to comment on Obama's recent approval of Royal Dutch Shell to resume drilling for oil and gas in the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean. Clinton's Aug. 18 tweet opposed Obama's decision, opining: "The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it's not worth the risk of drilling."

Clinton isn't an expert in either petroleum engineering or Arctic science, but her words matter to many. It's the ignorance of one-liners from politicians that stifles substantive dialogue on the nation's plan to responsibly develop and utilize energy resources for decades into the future.

As presidential hopefuls glance north and consider Alaska and the plentiful aspects of its potential, here's hoping everything from resource exploration and extraction to strengthened military and comprehensive Arctic policy are delineated within their platforms.

Recognize that Alaska has nine military bases with critical placement and strategies to protect North America, yet in July the Obama administration opted to reduce active-duty Army personnel by 40,000 across the nation over the next two years. Alaska will lose 2,675 service members, which doesn't include families, when the state should be building its defense infrastructure and position.

As for the economically burgeoning Arctic, which covers 5.5 million square miles, the United States now chairs the 17-year old Arctic Council. Obama will attend the Aug. 31 Glacier Conference with participation from the seven other Arctic nations' policymakers, scientists, foreign ministers and stakeholders to address the "global awareness" of Arctic climate change. Russian emissaries will be also there, at the same time their nation's military is moving air defense systems to targeted Arctic borders for short-to-medium range antiaircraft deployment and its exploration efforts include "claims" to underwater mineral and petroleum rights not recognized by the other nation members.

So as the presidential campaign heats up, let's hope the United States' Arctic and Alaskan interests are not left completely frozen. A last-minute visit by the president, or Paul with his plummeting 3 percent popularity in national polling, isn't enough. Nor is Clinton's baseless tweet.

Alaska is the country's only state within the resource-laden Arctic zone. Commercial corridors, deepwater ports, tourism, shipping, ice breakers and coastal protection all surface as priorities for American well-being. Few candidates have even broached the topic of Alaska. Toss into the mix the huge mineral and oil/gas potential, pivotal military defense and robust commercial seafood, timber and renewable energy opportunities, and the Last Frontier should legitimately be integral to all candidates' national and global agendas.

Alaska really does matter to this nation. It's time the top-tier presidential candidates embrace its relevance.

Anderson is the managing partner at Optima Public Relations and a radio talk show host.