"No" votes took a big lead over "Yes" votes in the epic battle over Ballot Measure 4.
With more than half of the votes counted at press time, Measure 4 was losing by a large margin. But still out was much of the Bush vote -- including the Bristol Bay region, where many residents are concerned about the massive, controversial Pebble copper and gold prospect.
The fight over the proposed law pitted salmon against mining in a multimillion-dollar ad war that inundated Alaskans for months, and confused many of them.
Opponents of Measure 4 sensed a victory late Tuesday night.
"We're cautiously optimistic. We're feeling good. This has been a great statement by the Alaskan people that mining is in our past and it's going to be in our future," said Renee Limoge, a spokeswoman for Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, a group that raised millions from the mining industry to fight Measure 4.
The proponents of Measure 4 said they believe that Gov. Sarah Palin's recent announcement that she would vote "No" cost them many voters.
"Our polls were showing us ahead until Palin came out, and then they just nose-dived," said Bruce Switzer, a technical adviser to the "Yes" vote campaign.
The battle over Pebble will continue, Switzer vowed.
"This is just the first quarter," said Switzer, a former mining executive who believes that Pebble would be an environmental mistake.
The ballot measure would enact a new law prohibiting metal mines from discharging harmful amounts of pollution into salmon streams and drinking water.
The fight over Measure 4 pitted the state's entire mining industry against foes of Pebble, one of the largest copper-gold prospects in the world but located in the headwaters of some river that support the rich Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run.
Exactly how Measure 4 could affect Pebble -- and Alaska mining in general -- would likely be up to the courts, state officials said.
Its proponents said the law is very simple: mines will not be allowed to pollute salmon streams.
But its opponents say it is rife with unclear language that would damage the state's entire mining industry, not just Pebble.
Measure 4's defeat likely would be touted by companies exploring Pebble as proof of popular support for a mine, making it harder to fight the prospect, Switzer said.
Many voters interviewed Tuesday said they were confused about the proposed law's consequences and felt that the ad war had muddied the issue.
"There was a lot of confusion about the issues, and people tend to vote no when they are confused," said state Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, at the Egan Center's Election Central on Tuesday night.
Fundraising by the two sides for TV, radio, print, mail and other advertising had hit at least $10.6 million this week.
The two sides drafted volunteers on Election Day who vastly outnumbered the usual poster-waving candidate supporters at major intersections in Anchorage.
Some stood proudly wearing mining or commercial fishing gear. One guy beat on a drum while "Yes on 4" workers pumped signs and waved flags at passing drivers.
Interviewed at the polling stations, Anchorage voters said they felt caught between two Alaskan icons -- fishing and mining.
"I thought it was excessive on both sides. It seemed like a big screaming match," said Seth Miraglia, a Bristol Bay gillnet fisherman from Anchorage.
He said he voted "Yes," hoping to block Pebble, which he sees as a threat to his future income.
Anne Young said she grew up commercial fishing. Even though she isn't thrilled about Pebble, she voted against Measure 4.
"It's kind of overdoing it because we already have laws in place to regulate mining," she said. "I'm hoping I'm not making a mistake."
"Clean water? Jobs? Tell me what it really says," said Charles Pilch, who voted at Mears Middle School.
Once he got in the booth and read the actual text, he decided to vote no.
The fight over Measure 4 turned into one of the most expensive political battles in state history.
Pebble foes, including Anchorage millionaire Bob Gillam and the Americans for Job Security -- a secretive, Republican-oriented group in Virginia that doesn't identify its members -- contributed nearly $3 million to back Measure 4.
Gillam disclosed giving $570,000. The Americans for Job Security disclosed giving $1.2 million to the "Yes" campaign, but it also funded "issue" ads in the form of mailers and radio spots. The cost of those ads was not disclosed.
The state's mining industry and its supporters raised nearly $8 million to fight Measure 4. A large portion of that money came from the companies seeking to develop Pebble.
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317. Daily News reporters Julia O'Malley and Megan Holland contributed to this story..