By BECKY BOHRER
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – Democrat Mark Begich conceded the Alaska governor’s race to Republican Mike Dunleavy Wednesday, following a topsy-turvy race for the state’s top seat.
The Associated Press has not called the race.
Begich said he spoke with Dunleavy Wednesday to congratulate him. “While we have many differences, we are Alaskans first,” he said in a statement.
Dunleavy had declared victory earlier, saying he was humbled by the trust voters had placed in him and takes seriously the task ahead.
“Elections remind us that in our system of government the people rule, and today the people made their voices heard,” he said.
Dunleavy, a former state senator, was the presumed front-runner for much of the race, which, until mid-October, included Gov. Bill Walker.
Walker, an independent, ended his campaign days after Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott resigned over what Walker described as an inappropriate overture to a woman. Walker, who was elected with Democratic support in 2014, said he voted for Begich. Walker said he worried that Dunleavy would unravel some of his major policies, such as expanding Medicaid to cover more lower-income Alaskans.
Begich is a former Anchorage mayor and one-term U.S. senator. For much of the campaign, there was angst among some Democrats and independents who feared he and Walker would split the vote and hand the race to Dunleavy.
Begich said he had momentum heading into Tuesday’s election but worried voters might be confused with Walker’s name still on the ballot. Walker quit the campaign after the deadline to withdraw had passed.
Results tallied so far show Walker receiving a small percentage of votes.
Dunleavy cast himself as tough on crime, saying public safety would be a top priority. He called for reduced spending and limiting the growth of government, though he was criticized for not offering many details on what he would cut.
He also said he supported a full payout of the check Alaskans receive from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, and paying Alaskans the amount they missed out on when annual checks were capped. Preliminary budget estimates suggest that could cost $4.3 billion. The payout has been limited since 2016 amid a state budget deficit.
Begich called Dunleavy’s dividend proposal a ploy for votes that could threaten the long-term future of the program. But Dunleavy countered his proposal was a way to help restore Alaskans’ trust in state government.
Oil prices, which were in freefall when Walker took office in 2014 and hit as low at $26 a barrel in early 2016, have moderated, lingering above $70 a barrel so far this fiscal year. But paying a full dividend at current prices would leave a budget gap and could limit the state’s ability to repay the billions of dollars in reserves the Legislature went through to help plug the deficit, said David Teal, a legislative fiscal analyst.
Dunleavy argues that Alaskans should get a say via vote before any changes to the dividend program are made.
Dividend checks are paid using permanent fund earnings, which lawmakers this year also began using for government expenses.
Begich and Dunleavy differed on a ballot measure that failed Tuesday. Supporters said the measure would protect salmon habitat while opponents said it could hamper development. Begich supported the initiative; Dunleavy didn’t.
The company behind the proposed Pebble Mine project near Alaska’s major Bristol Bay salmon fishery called Dunleavy “a strong proponent of encouraging investment and responsible development of the state’s natural resources.”
Third-party independent expenditure groups helped boost Dunleavy, with two groups reporting combined contributions of $4.7 million to support his run.
Cliff Johnson voted for Dunleavy at a polling place in Anchorage. “Mainly because he’s a Republican, and it’s time for a change for Alaska,” Johnson said.
Ryan Hansen, who also voted in Anchorage, said he trusts Dunleavy. Hansen, who voted for Walker in 2014, said his top concerns are crime and natural resource development.
Therese Thibodeau of Juneau said Medicaid expansion and the state’s fiscal situation were important issues for her. She said after Walker bowed out, her vote went to Begich.
For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections:áhttp://apne.ws/APPolitics