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Republican Dunleavy defeats Begich in Alaska governor's race

Associated Press logoAssociated Press 11/7/2018 By BECKY BOHRER, Associated Press
Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy, right, greets Sen. Dan Sullivan Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 In Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen) © The Associated Press Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy, right, greets Sen. Dan Sullivan Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 In Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Michael Dinneen)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Republican Mike Dunleavy, who pledged to get tough on crime and pay Alaskans their full annual share from the state's oil-wealth fund, has won the Alaska governor's race.

Dunleavy declared victory early Wednesday, hours before his main rival, Democrat Mark Begich, conceded.

Dunleavy felt good about his chances heading into Tuesday's election, predicting it would be a "watershed."

The conservative 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 with Democratic support defeated Republican Gov. Sean Parnell in 2014, said he voted for Begich. Walker said he worried that Dunleavy would unravel some of his major policies, such as expanding Medicaid.

In a tweet Wednesday, Walker congratulated Dunleavy "for earning the responsibility of becoming Alaska's next Governor." He said he and his team stood ready to guarantee a smooth transition.

For much of the campaign, there was angst among some Democrats and independents who feared Begich and Walker would split the vote and hand the race to Dunleavy.

Begich, a former Anchorage mayor and one-term U.S. senator, said he had momentum heading into the election but worried voters might be confused since Walker's name remained 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.

Crime was a major issue in the race, and Dunleavy said 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, Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., called Dunleavy "a strong proponent of encouraging investment and responsible development of the state's natural resources" to address Alaska's economic challenges.

Third-party independent expenditure groups helped boost Dunleavy, with two groups reporting combined contributions of $4.7 million to support his run.

Sheila Hill, who voted for Dunleavy at an Anchorage polling place, said she liked his "conservative values and I think he'll be good for the state."

Anchorage voter John Gregoire, an independent, backed Begich after Walker pulled out. He expressed concerns about Dunleavy's stance on fiscal issues.

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.

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For AP's complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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