7 candidates widen leads in tight races

Kyle Hopkins

With the country's attention turned to Alaska's barnburner of a U.S. Senate race, state legislators watched the latest election numbers with their own hides in mind Wednesday night.

Most frontrunners could breathe a sigh of relief. Of the four incumbent lawmakers who began the day fewer than 200 votes ahead of their opponents, three widened the gap in the most recent count:

• Fairbanks Democrat Rep. Scott Kawasaki's lead over Republican Sue Hull grew to 280 votes.

• Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, expanded his lead on Democrat John Brown to 233 votes.

• Rep. Bob Buch, a Democrat who represents the Baxter neighborhood in Anchorage, roughly doubled his edge on Republican Bob Lewis to 124 votes.

In the narrow legislative races, only incumbent Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, lost ground. His edge over Democrat Karl Kassel shrunk by more than half, to just 32 votes.

Still, the count is far from over. The Division of Elections tallied an additional 59,000 ballots Wednesday, but tens of thousands more remain uncounted. The deadline for counting is Wednesday, Nov. 19.

"You work every day in the campaign for months and you're going door to door talking to people and the day of the election ... you're ready to find out whether all the work paid off or not and then the race ends up being too close to call," said Pete Petersen, a Democrat who watched his lead over incumbent Republican Rep. Bob Roses grow Wednesday in East Anchorage.

In a Fairbanks Senate race with no incumbent, Democrat Joe Paskvan saw his lead over Republican Cynthia Henry expand to 391 votes. The seat is being vacated by Republican Sen. Gary Wilken.

Two contests for open House seats had appeared close before Wednesday. But in each race, the frontrunner began pulling away.

Looking to replace Anchorage Republican Ralph Samuels, Democrat Chris Tuck is 225 votes ahead of Ron Jordan, while Alan Austerman is now more than 400 votes ahead of Democrat Andrew Lundquist in the race for retiring Kodiak Republican Gabrielle LeDoux's post.

On Nov. 4, voters generally favored incumbents in the legislative races. The Division of Elections plans to resume counting ballots on Friday. Barring any surprises, Republicans and Democrats are tied at 10 seats apiece in the Senate, with Republicans holding a slight edge in the House.

Find Kyle Hopkins' political blog online at adn.com/alaskapolitics or call him at 257-4334.

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