Dunleavy poised to win Alaska governor’s race

Mike Dunleavy and Nancy Dahlstrom
Incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to his supporters with his running mate Nancy Dahlstrom at an election night watch party at the Marriott Hotel in Anchorage on Tuesday. (Kavitha George/Alaska Public Media)

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 about 218,000 ballots by Thursday morning, two days after Election Day. More absentee and overseas ballots will be added to the tally over the coming days.

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. 

Related: Here are the latest vote tallies in Alaska’s general election

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. Political consultant Jim Lottsfeldt said, with the vast majority of votes already counted, that’s a likely outcome.

“Yeah, I think he’s going to win on the first round,” Lottsfeldt said Wednesday morning. 

The precincts not yet included in the count are mostly rural areas of Western Alaska, which Lottsfeldt expects to skew toward the two more progressive candidates, Walker and Gara.

“So it’s possible Dunleavy drops under 50%, but at this point, it doesn’t matter. Because either he’s won outright, or he’s just on the cusp. And when we go to rank choice voting, he will pick up the handful of votes he needs,” Lottsfeldt said. “There’s no question in my mind that Dunleavy’s getting another term.”

Lottsfeldt helped run the super PAC Alaskans for Lisa, supporting Lisa Murkowski’s U.S. Senate reelection bid.

On Tuesday night, Dunleavy’s supporters seemed buoyed by initial results. At a party at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Anchorage, a cheer went up in the room when supporters saw the governor’s initial lead. A Fox News stream with national results played on another screen. Attendees included Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson.

When a smiling Dunleavy later walked into the party, his supporters 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!”

people cheer with signs
The crowd cheers as incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy walked into his campaign party at the Marriott Hotel in Anchorage on Tuesday. (Kavitha George/Alaska Public Media)

In an interview Tuesday evening, when about half of precincts were reporting, 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 over 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.” 

Democratic candidate for Alaska Governor Les Gara speaks to a supporter during a campaign watch party at Gara’s downtown Anchorage home. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

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 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,” said Heidi Drygas, Walker’s pick for lieutenant governor, 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.” 

A man in a blue navy baseball cap
Independent Alaska governor candidate Bill Walker campaigns near the Midtown Mall in Anchorage on Tuesday. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

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.

Lottsfeldt said he was surprised that Dunleavy — the first Republican governor in Alaska to win two consecutive terms since Gov. Jay Hammond in 1978 — cruised to victory “without running much of a campaign.”

“He didn’t engage with his opponents, he didn’t do many events,” said Lottsfeldt. “He actually avoided most campaign stuff, and it worked for him, he got reelected. You can’t argue with the success of it from his perspective.”

Ivan Moore, who runs polling company Alaska Survey Research, said Dunleavy’s limited appearances might have been by design.

“It’s a thing that people do when they perceive that making campaign appearances and showing up to debates is more likely to lose them votes than get them votes,” Moore said. “[Dunleavy] had the votes to start with. It was Gara’s and Walker’s job to try and strip those votes off him. And everything that they tried pretty much didn’t work.”

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.


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Editor’s note: This story will be updated as more results are counted.

Find more election coverage and voter resources at alaskapublic.org/elections.

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