Update (11:30 a.m., Nov. 7)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Begich conceded the race to Republican Mike Dunleavy Wednesday morning.
In a statement released by his campaign, Begich said he’d called Dunleavy to congratulate him on being Alaska’s next governor.
Dunleavy led the election for governor by a large margin Tuesday, in a night that shaped up to be the best for Alaska Republicans in eight years.
Dunleavy is a former state Senator from Wasilla who pledged to cut government and restore full permanent fund dividends. He said the message resonated with Alaskans.
“I think it’s the message that we can develop our resources, that we don’t have to default to taxes or Permanent Fund until we get our fiscal house in order, that we need to create jobs. You know, I’m not going to celebrate, for example, the expansion of welfare programs. I’m going to celebrate the expansion of job creation in the state of Alaska.”
Democrat Mark Begich hadn’t conceded near midnight Tuesday. But Dunleavy’s lead appeared insurmountable. Earlier in the evening, Begich reflected on the campaign.
“I think this has been a total unusual campaign — hard to understand what was going to happen every day, Begich said. “A lot of changes as we moved through it, but really, I think we’ve done a great campaign, because we’ve brought a lot of people together that had not been together for a long time.”
Dunleavy led 53 percent to 44 percent, with 88 percent of precincts reporting. Independent Gov. Bill Walker and Libertarian Billy Toien each won 2 percent.
Update (10:33 p.m.) — Ryan Cunningham
Republican Mike Dunleavy is off to a promising start with 59 percent of precincts reporting. He leads Democrat Mark Begich by a 9-point margin, leading 52 percent to 43 percent. Libertarian Billy Toien and incumbent Bill Walker are each hovering around two percent. Although Walker suspended his campaign last month, it was too late to remove his name from the ballot.
The choice between Republican Mike Dunleavy and Democrat Mark Begich didn’t look to be close for most of the campaign. But the late end of Gov. Bill Walker’s campaign narrowed the double-digit lead Dunleavy built.
Dunleavy is a former state senator from Wasilla. He emphasized repealing the criminal justice overhaul that reduced criminal sentences two years ago. And he pledged to restore permanent fund dividends to the amounts they would have been under a formula used until the state’s fiscal crisis. He was deeply critical of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican elected as an independent four years ago. He also plans to make cuts to the state budget, but hasn’t said which services would be affected.
Wes Skinner, a volunteer for nonprofit agencies in Anchorage, voted for Dunleavy.
“If he’s representing all Alaskans as governor, I think he’s going to feel the weight of responsibility to do the right thing,” he said.
Begich is a former U.S. senator and Anchorage mayor. He was tied with Walker in polls until the governor dropped out after former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott resigned over what Walker has described as inappropriate remarks to a woman. Begich also has criticized reductions to PFDs and the criminal justice overhaul. He has proposed a PFD formula that would lead to larger dividends than the last three years, but smaller than those proposed by Dunleavy. He supports new revenue — such as an income tax — to balance the state budget.
Kathy Shankel, a retired state Division of Juvenile Justice worker, voted for Begich. She said she wanted a complete fiscal plan for the state — she would have voted for Walker and switched to Begich after the governor ended his run.
“There are some very difficult decisions that have to be made. The kind of long — for lack of a better term — free ride is over for the state,” she said. “So I think without some solutions going forward, the state will be in a very dire situation.”
Walker’s name remained on the ballot. Some voters chose to vote for him, even if it was just a symbolic vote.
“He was the only one who really started attacking our problems, of our deficits,” said Anchorage voter Raymond Helmer, a retired general contractor.
Libertarian Billy Toien also ran. He would like to scale back the size of state government. He said he would only gradually propose changes like ending the state role in maintaining public schools.
This story will be updated as election results come in.