- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The campaigns for Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and independent candidate Bill Walker are each launching their final push ahead of Tuesday’s election.

The tightening race has seen the Republican incumbent defending his handling of sexual assault allegations and other misconduct in the Alaska National Guard while his opponent has gained momentum since joining forces with a Democrat.

Both sides express confidence of victory and say volunteers are fanning out across the state to rally for the candidates.

Parnell has received the endorsement from former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who will appear at a rally with the governor on Monday.

Former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin recently endorsed Walker instead of Parnell, her former lieutenant governor who backed a reduced state oil-industry tax system that replaced Palin’s signature system established with the help of Democratic lawmakers.

Parnell, who is seeking a second full term in office, has been dogged by increasing criticism over the Alaska National Guard scandal. Walker and his supporters have cast Parnell as responding too slowly to the allegations, a characterization Parnell has steadfastly denied. His campaign says the issue has been politicized by Walker and his allies.

“The fact of the matter is, this is an issue that has plagued the Guard for decades,” Parnell campaign spokesman Luke Miller said. “What Alaskans have right now in Gov. Parnell is a governor who’s getting to the bottom of it.”

Still, Parnell is seen as increasingly vulnerable, a perception heightened late in the race by the creation of a new Republican group calling itself Citizens against Walker that has raised more than $1.3 million for a last-minute advertising campaign against Walker.

On Thursday, the Alaska Federation of Republican Women - which endorsed Palin in her gubernatorial run in 2006 before she quit mid-way through her first term - blasted Palin’s support for Walker.

Walker, who finished second to Parnell in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary, joined forces early in his campaign with Democrat Byron Mallott, who won the Democratic primary for governor in August.

The “unity ticket” headed by Walker has been widely seen as providing a stronger challenge to Parnell, whose running mate is Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Parnell and his supporters have questioned the merger, pressing Walker for details on how a social conservative could govern with a more liberal second-in-command.

Walker has focused his campaign more on economic issues, except for repeatedly saying he would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move Parnell has rejected.

Walker said he personally is against abortion and believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, but would “follow the law of the land.” He said he would consult with Mallott and others about any legislation dealing with social issues, but adds the decision would ultimately be his and his alone.

“I’ve been very clear about my views,” he said. “Those issues are not what caused me to run for governor.”

A natural gas pipeline project has been another issue for Walker, who advocated for one for years. However, he took issue with the process for pursuing the one that was championed by Parnell’s administration and was approved by state lawmakers.

That process involves the North Slope’s three major oil producers and TransCanada Corp., which would own at least part of the state’s interest in the pipeline and gas treatment plant. Walker vowed he would not start over, but also said the state needs a greater say than it currently has.

Parnell has said that Walker has contradictory views and no specific plans.

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Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

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