ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Republican Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell handily won the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary, advancing his quest for re-election and setting the stage for a three-way battle with Democratic challenger Byron Mallott and independent candidate Bill Walker.
Parnell and his two main opponents in the November general election are planning to turn up the heat on their campaigns. Before the primary, gubernatorial campaigns were largely eclipsed by contentious runs for a U.S. Senate seat and a ballot referendum to repeal the state’s new system for taxing oil companies championed by Parnell that lowered taxes for oil companies operating in Alaska.
The 51-year-old Parnell is seeking a second full term in office. In If he wins in the November general election, he would be poised to be the second-longest-serving governor in Alaska since statehood.
Parnell was Alaska’s lieutenant governor when he stepped in as governor in July 2009 when former Gov. Sarah Palin resigned midway through her term. The longest-running governor was Democrat William Egan, who served three four-year terms, the first two terms consecutively until the mid-1960s. Egan won a third term in 1970.
“I think we’ve got a very strong showing, and I’m very satisfied in the direction that that’s headed,” Parnell said as early votes were being posted.
Walker, 63, finished second behind Parnell in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial race. This time, he is bypassing the primary. Instead, he opted to gather signatures to qualify as unaffiliated candidate rather than make another run for the GOP nomination. Coinciding with Tuesday’s election, Walker’s campaign held a grand opening of its downtown Anchorage headquarters, filling the office with supporters.
“The symbolism is that we move on,” Walker said. “This is our graduation effort as far as we’ve moved on beyond the primary, and so some of the opponents will move on as well, and as will we. And we thought, what a better day to have our grand opening?”
Given the expectation that Mallott and Walker will split the anti-Parnell vote, political observers believe Parnell as the incumbent holds an edge, even if he receives only 40 percent of the vote.
“I think he’s got that easily,” said longtime political watcher Stephen Haycox, a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “The only thing that can challenge that is if a significant number of Democrats cross over and vote for Bill Walker.”
Haycox believes Mallott, 71, is the weakest of the three candidates, saying he has run a lackluster campaign so far.
Laury Roberts Scandling, a spokeswoman for Mallott, said the campaign is expected to accelerate after the primary clears the question of who will be the GOP Senate candidate in the general election and whether voters will choose to repeal the current oil tax system.
Scandling said those issues have clogged the airwaves and distracted voters, making it difficult to drum up interest in other issues.
Mallott spent the day campaigning in Sitka, arriving in Juneau Tuesday night. He said he plans to travel Wednesday to Anchorage, where he will run his campaign. He said he is looking forward to debating against Parnell.
“I’m anxious to be back on the campaign trail,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Mallott, a Tlingit born in Yakutat, got a vote Tuesday afternoon from Anchorage resident Leda Olsen.
“Because he’s Native,” Olsen said after casting her ballot in Anchorage’s Mountain View sector. “It’s about time we had a Native for governor.”
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