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By Andrew Kitchenman
Alaska Beacon 

Dunleavy headed to re-election win as governor

 

November 16, 2022



Gov. Mike Dunleavy appears on pace for re-election to a second four-year term, based on preliminary numbers from last week’s election.

Dunleavy, a Republican, held a substantial lead over challengers Democrat Les Gara, independent Bill Walker and Republican Charlie Pierce, taking 52% of the 217,769 first-choice votes counted after the Nov. 8 statewide election.

That tally was as of Monday this week, with updated numbers expected this week as more absentee, mail-in and questioned ballots are counted.

If Dunleavy’s vote share stays above 50% by the final count on Nov. 23, he will win the election outright without going through Alaska’s new ranked-choice counting process.

Gara and Walker had less than half as many votes as Dunleavy as last week, with Gara at 23.1%, Walker at 20.1% and Pierce at 4.6%.

Wrangell voted 56% for Dunleavy.

The election capped a tumultuous term for Dunleavy, who is seeking to become the first Alaska governor to be re-elected since Democrat Tony Knowles in 1998.

Dunleavy’s campaign has been boosted by the tailwind of high oil prices, which allowed the first state budget surplus in 10 years and a $3,284 payout to eligible Alaskans this fall. The combined Permanent Fund dividend and energy relief payment was the largest in state history, without adjusting for inflation.

Gara and Walker have argued that similar surpluses in the past have not lasted. In their campaigns, they said that when oil prices fall, Dunleavy will revert to either the deep cuts to state services that he proposed in his first budget in 2019 or call for unsustainable draws from the Alaska Permanent Fund, the oil-wealth savings account that lawmakers have hoped would help sustain the state in perpetuity.

Dunleavy’s proposed 2019 budget cuts prompted a campaign to recall him from office — abandoned during the pandemic that shut down the 2020 petition signature drive — and he has not returned to those same stark proposals.

During his campaign, Gara pledged to balance the state budget and strengthen state services by increasing the amounts oil companies pay in taxes. Walker talked about striking a balance that would avert deep cuts or taxes. He said he wants to finish the deficit-cutting work he started when he served as governor from 2014 to 2018.

Along with Knowles, the only other Alaska governors to serve two consecutive full terms were Democrat Bill Egan and Republican Jay Hammond.

Thousands of absentee and early votes remain to be counted, but even if Dunleavy finishes below 50% among first-choice ballots, he remains likely to win outright.

Republican Charlie Pierce is running fourth in the race and would be eliminated first if ranked-choice sorting takes place. Many of Pierce’s voters likely picked Dunleavy as a second option.

Pierce ran to Dunleavy’s right, but struggled to gain traction. He is accused of sexually harassing a former executive assistant when he served as Kenai Borough Peninsula mayor — the third harassment complaint lodged against Pierce during his time as mayor.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com.

 

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