A powerful Alaska senator who was against the ropes last week against a rookie challenger is now solidly ahead in a Republican primary race following a count Tuesday of absentee and questioned ballots.
Senate Majority leader Pete Micciche, R-Soldotna, was initially down by 9 votes to Ronald Gillham, an oilfield worker, shortly after the Aug. 21 primary.
Following the count Tuesday, Micciche pulled ahead by 72 votes, with 2,930 votes to Gillham's 2,858 votes. The updated results were released Tuesday evening by the Division of Elections.
Micciche said some absentee ballots remain to be counted Friday. He thanked his supporters for their help and said he was ready to reach out to opposing voters to better serve them in the future. But he said he wasn't ready to celebrate a win yet.
"As I've said all along, I'll wait for the final result," he said. "I'm cautiously optimistic, but the champagne remains on ice."
The race in the Kenai Peninsula district was marked by anger over Micciche's decision to help close the state deficit using some earnings of the Permanent Fund Dividend, reducing dividend checks. Micciche also voted for the unpopular Senate Bill 91, a crime-reform measure many Alaskans blame for putting criminals on the street instead of jail.
"My promise is I won't rest until we have a better criminal justice system to protect the public than we've ever had before," Micciche said.
Gillham, 61, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
His campaign manager, Cathy Sturman, said she was not ready to comment.