Incumbent Republican Mike Dunleavy is leading in Alaska’s governor race, capturing just over 50% of first-place votes tallied so far.
The state Division of Elections had counted more than 215,000 ballots by early Wednesday, with nearly all polling precincts reporting.
So far, Dunleavy has about 52% of first-place votes, Democrat Les Gara has about 23% and independent Bill Walker has about 20%. Republican Charlie Pierce is trailing with less than 5% of the vote.
Absentee and overseas ballots will be added to the tally over the coming days.
At a party for Dunleavy supporters in downtown Anchorage Tuesday night, a cheer went up in the room when the crowd saw the governor’s initial lead. A Fox News stream with national results played on another screen. Attendees at the Marriott Hotel party included Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson. When a smiling Dunleavy later walked in, the crowd cheered, hollered and waved campaign signs.
“We’re the only red state left on the entire West Coast because of you people,” Dunleavy said to the elated crowd, who responded by chanting “four more years!”
If Dunleavy’s share of the vote remains over 50% as more ballots are counted, he will win a second term as governor outright, with no need for ranked choice vote tabulations.
In an interview, Dunleavy said he wasn’t ready to declare victory.
“Not all precincts are in, not all votes are in, obviously,” he said just before 10 p.m. “So we’re gonna wait. But right now we’re feeling pretty good. We like where we’re at. Again, we just hope that it holds so we can get this over and we can get back to governing.”
If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote after all the first place votes are counted, the Division of Elections will tabulate second, third and possibly fourth-place votes on Nov. 23.
Earlier in the night, Gara noted that absentee votes to be counted later in the process are less likely to favor Dunleavy.
“It seems like Democrats vote more absentee, Republicans vote more in person,” he said at a campaign party at his home in Anchorage’s South Addition neighborhood. “I don’t blame either, we’re just a divided country right now. Hope we can end that, too, and bring people together. But, you know, when people are even voting differently, you know that there’s a problem, that there’s unity you have to create.”
In the August primary, Dunleavy led with 40% of the vote, followed by Gara and Walker, with about 23% each. Pierce trailed with less than 7%.
Gara and Walker, the two more progressive candidates in the race, have acknowledged since the primary that a path to victory for either of them would require each other’s second-place votes. The Democrat and independent even took the unusual step late last month of releasing a joint online advertisement urging voters to rank each other second.
“We’re uniting because our teams agree — Alaska can’t afford four more years of Mike Dunleavy,” Heidi Drygas, Walker’s pick for lieutenant governor, said in the ad.
On election night, Walker and Drygas said they left it all on the field.
“We did it all,” Walker said. “We went everywhere, we talked to everyone, we did all the things we’re supposed to do. And mostly, we listened to Alaskans, so that was really the special part.”
Gara and Walker have been critical throughout the campaign of Dunleavy’s record in office and his sparse appearances on the campaign trail. Dunleavy has said his job as governor limits his availability.
Meanwhile, a sexual harassment scandal rocked Pierce’s campaign weeks before the election. A former executive assistant filed a lawsuit against Pierce on Oct. 21 accusing him of repeated unwanted touching, sexual remarks and sexual advances. Walker and Gara both condemned Pierce shortly after the news broke, calling on him to drop out of the race. Dunleavy, who had been urging voters to rank Pierce second, took a softer approach, saying the news was concerning but he was “waiting for more facts to emerge.”
Less than a week after the lawsuit was filed, Pierce’s running mate Edie Grunwald said she was dropping out of the race, and encouraged voters to choose Dunleavy instead. In response, Dunleavy’s campaign said the incumbent governor and his running mate Nancy Dahlstrom were now “the only viable ticket for voters to choose from.”
As for money, Walker far out-raised his opponents in the gubernatorial race during the last reporting period. He received $338,000 between Oct. 8 and Oct. 29, more than double what Dunleavy or Gara pulled in. Gara received about $152,000 and Dunleavy received about $122,000. Pierce raised $900 during the last reporting period.