Gov. Sean Parnell won in his own right the job he inherited last year when Sarah Palin abruptly resigned.
Parnell, a steady Republican conservative who promised voters his administration is on track to secure a long-sought natural gas pipeline, won 59 percent of the vote to Democrat challenger Ethan Berkowitz's 38 percent, with 70 percent of the precincts counted.
Berkowitz, 48, threw a fierce challenge at Parnell but couldn't win over enough voters with his pitch that the state was stagnating and needed his fresh ideas.
Parnell was part of the winning Palin-Parnell ticket four years ago as the lieutenant governor candidate. This time he won as the headliner. He doesn't exhibit the rock star allure of his predecessor and isn't burdened by the perpetual drama that marred her last year. Instead Parnell tried to appeal to voters as the steady conservative choice.
"I think over the last 15 months, I've earned the trust of Alaskans," Parnell said Tuesday night walking into the Egan Convention Center, which was election central. "They know that I'm focused on jobs and families. I'm going to continue to do that."
He said he ran a positive campaign focused on issues, not personalities. While there are yet votes to be counted, including absentee ballots, his lead appears insurmountable, Parnell said.
Berkowitz, at his campaign party at Snow City Café, all but conceded.
He said he ran a good race and now Parnell "has the burden of leadership."
Berkowitz said he plans to stay involved in politics.
He said he told his campaign supporters, "As long as I draw breath I'm going to fight for the things I believe in."
RUNNING ON HIS RECORD
Voters said they wanted to give Parnell four more years to set his own agenda.
"Sean virtually got stuck with Sarah's garbage and you might as well give him a chance to try to actually do something," said Edward Bouwens, a 55-year-old independent voter and lifelong Alaskan. He voted midday at Anchorage's Hanshew Middle School.
Colleen Gross, an Ocean View Elementary School teacher and mom in her 40s, said she voted for Sean Parnell in the governor's race because he is doing "an adequate job."
"Ethan Berkowitz is a little extreme, so we'll stay with the adequate guy," Gross said.
During the campaign, Parnell ran on his record: legislation that upped penalties for sex crimes, more support for victims of domestic violence, cuts in the cruise-ship passenger tax, creation of a merit scholarship program, state lawsuits against the federal government on several fronts, including one trying to overturn a moratorium on offshore drilling in Alaska's Arctic.
Parnell vowed to largely stay the course, supporting a process begun under the Palin administration for a natural gas pipeline project from the North Slope that private companies are evaluating whether to build. But he also said he wanted to fine-tune a controversial 2007 oil tax law by providing tax breaks for oil exploration.
BERKOWITZ OFFERED CHANGE
Berkowitz is an attorney and former state legislator from Anchorage. He told voters the state was languishing under Parnell. He offered a flurry of proposals: changes in Alaska's oil tax structure, free preschool for families who wanted it, lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, and an opportunity for Alaskans to invest directly in a gas pipeline project.
Berkowitz even lured high profile Republican Bill Walker, Parnell's runner-up in August's GOP primary, onto his team as head of the all-in-Alaska gas pipeline project Berkowitz vowed to push if he won.
"My primary concern is that gas pipeline and jobs," said Robert Carnahan, 46, a Walker fan and commercial fisherman who cast his ballot for Parnell at Anchorage's Romig Middle School. "Ethan Berkowitz just about had me because of the gas pipeline."
A number of voters for Berkowitz said they liked his optimism, ideas and willingness to shake things up.
"He's pretty honest for somebody who's been involved in politics," said Carolynn Hickey, 61 and an independent voter also casting her ballot at the Lutheran church. "He's got a lot of good positive ideas. I think he would be a good change for Alaska."
It's hard for a Democrat to win statewide in Alaska without an odd twist: a criminal conviction, two conservatives splitting the vote, exposed malfeasance. Berkowitz had hoped that rough-and-tumble U.S. Senate race would break open his own race, but it didn't work out that way.
The race heated up in the final days with an infusion of more than $700,000 from the Republican Governors Association for television and radio ads that blasted Berkowitz as an Obama-like liberal.
Berkowitz got some help from the political arm of the National Education Association-Alaska, which did radio and newspaper ads for Berkowitz and a few legislative candidates. On the ticket with him as the lieutenant governor candidate was Diane Benson, a Chugiak writer and actress.
Parnell is an attorney and former state representative and senator from Anchorage. He became an oil company lobbyist, then served in the Murkowski administration as the deputy director of the Division of Oil and Gas. He and his wife, Sandy, have two daughters.
Parnell's running mate was Mead Treadwell, an entrepreneur who was a close associate of the late Gov. Wally Hickel.
Find Lisa Demer online at adn.com/contact/ldemer or call 257-4390. Reporter Rosemary Shinohara contributed to this story.
By LISA DEMER