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Hollis French defeats Bob Bell in contentious Anchorage Senate race

Ben Anderson
Jill Burke photo

After a recount Thursday, Democratic Sen. Hollis French won re-election to the Alaska Senate in a hotly-contested West Anchorage race against Republican challenger Bob Bell.

The initial vote tally showed a 51-vote margin between the candidates. The recount determined that French won by 59 votes with 7,605 ballots, according to an email from Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai.

Both candidates for Senate District J spent heavily. French campaigned in new terrain after redistricting. Bell, a longtime engineering firm owner and former Anchorage assemblyman, also faced a stout challenge in the Republican primary against Liz Vazquez, who contributed tens of thousands of dollars of her own money in an effort to reach the general election.

"It’s always very nice to have the counting over, the result sort-of verified, and to know that our hard work paid off," French said Thursday after hearing the recount results.

Bell came under scrutiny late in the game leading up to the November election. It included controversy surrounding a pair of horns possibly taken during a 2010 subsistence hunt in Nome, when Bell was a member of the Alaska Board of Game. A trooper investigation into the matter, spurred by questions from Alaska Dispatch, cleared Bell of wrongdoing. Bell also faced scrutiny for his firm's million-dollar business with oil major BP -- which stood to potentially gain as the legislature debates controversial oil tax cuts -- and an alleged attempted bribery incident during Bell's time as an assemblyman.

French now faces a very different Senate landscape, as well. Where last session saw a bipartisan majority of 10 Democrat and six Republican senators, this session will feature a Republican-dominated majority after the party wrested three seats from Democrats on Nov. 6. The makeup now stands at 13 Republicans and seven Democrats. Two of those Democrats have joined the majority.

The Division of Elections still has work to do. Another tight race for a House seat in Southeast Alaska is even closer than the Bell-French race and also headed for a recount. That race, between Republican incumbent Rep. Bill Thomas and Democrat challenger Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, saw only 34 votes separate the two. 

Fenumiai told the Juneau Empire that that recount will take place on Monday.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com