Results posted by Alaska election officials Friday solidified the leads of incumbents in statewide races for governor, U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican who was censured by the Alaska Republican Party, pulled ahead of her right-wing opponent Kelly Tshibaka in the number of first-choice votes, with late-counted absentee and early votes breaking in her favor. The incumbent is on track to win reelection when ranked choice votes are tabulated by the Division of Elections on Wednesday afternoon.
Murkowski had more than 43% of first-choice votes with nearly 265,000 ballots counted Friday night. Tshibaka, who was endorsed by the Alaska Republican Party and former President Donald Trump, had under 43%, trailing Murkowski by more than 1,600 votes.
Murkowski posted on her Twitter account a meme referencing Tshibaka’s claim that she had lost because of ranked choice voting, celebrating her first-choice vote lead. A spokesperson for her campaign declined to provide additional comments on the results.
A spokesperson for Tshibaka’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Murkowski is set to benefit from nearly 27,000 votes cast for Democrat Pat Chesbro, who was in third with 10% of first-choice votes. In the ranked choice voting tabulation, Chesbro will be eliminated and many of her votes will likely be reallocated to Murkowski based on voter preferences.
Republican Buzz Kelley was in fourth with less than 3% and would be the first candidate eliminated under ranked choice tabulation. Kelley dropped out of the race but his name remained on the ballot; Kelley endorsed Tshibaka and at least some of his more than 7,000 votes were likely to go to her.
In the U.S. House race, Democrat Rep. Mary Peltola was ahead with almost 49% of first-choice votes and in a strong position to retain the seat she won in an August special election.
In second place was Republican former Gov. Sarah Palin with less than 26%. In third was Republican Nick Begich with just over 23%. Libertarian Chris Bye was in fourth with less than 2%.
Palin is unlikely to get enough second-place votes to overtake Peltola in the ranked-choice tabulation.
With more ballots left to be counted, the incumbent was not formally celebrating her success despite her strong position.
“I think a 22-point lead is a comfortable lead but I’m certainly not accepting congratulations yet,” Peltola said in an interview on Thursday.
Still, on her official social media accounts on Friday, she already announced which new office space she would occupy starting in the new congressional term and invited college students to apply for internships beginning in the spring of 2023.
In the governor’s race, Republican incumbent Gov. Mike Dunleavy was leading with more than 50% of first-choice votes. As long as Dunleavy remains above the 50% threshold needed to win outright, he will be declared the winner of the race before ranked choice votes are taken into account.
Democratic former lawmaker Les Gara was in second with 24%. In third was independent former Gov. Bill Walker with nearly 21%. In fourth was Republican former Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor with less than 5% of the vote.
Neither Gara nor Walker — both of whom were critical of Dunleavy during their campaigns — appeared likely to coalesce enough support under ranked choice tabulation to overtake Dunleavy, given his strong lead.
Friday night’s tally solidified the leads for candidates who were ahead in several key races. Two incumbent lawmakers conceded.
Republican Sen. Mia Costello, who has served in the state House and Senate for the past 12 years, posted to social media on Thursday that Democratic Rep. Matt Claman’s lead was “numerically insurmountable” with her on 48% and him on 52%.
Costello wished Claman well in representing West Anchorage, and said she had run for public office to make the area an “amazing place to raise my kids, just as it was an incredible place for me to grow up.”
Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Grier Hopkins, who was first elected in 2018, also conceded on Friday evening after trailing behind Republican Frank Tomaszewski, a member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. Hopkins was running in a much more Republican-leaning district after the latest redistricting cycle.
Tomaszewski had 49% against Hopkins with 43%. Third-place Republican Nate DeMars had just under 8% of first-choice votes after Friday night’s returns.
“Thank you all for your support!” Hopkins said on social media. “From the beginning we knew this would be more than an uphill battle, but we all gave it our all!”
The state Senate is expected to soon announce the formation of a bipartisan majority coalition. In the 40-seat House, 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats and independents are currently ahead, leading to uncertainty whether a bipartisan coalition or a Republican-led majority organizes that legislative chamber.
Friday’s results saw Democratic Rep. Neal Foster pull further ahead of Alaskan Independence Party candidate Tyler Ivanoff for a Nome-region House seat. Foster now leads by 108 votes after being ahead by only a handful of votes after election night returns.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson increased his leading margin for a Midtown Anchorage House seat against Republican Kathy Henslee. Josephson is ahead by 275 votes.
Democrat Donna Mears pulled further ahead from Republican Forrest Wolfe for an open East Anchorage House seat. She is leading by 152 votes.
Republican Stanley Wright, a former aide to Gov. Dunleavy, maintained a 67-vote lead for another open East Anchorage House race against Democrat Ted Eischeid, a planner for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
There are still nine legislative races set to be resolved through the ranked choice tabulation on Wednesday:
• Former Sen. Cathy Giessel is ahead by a slim 93-vote margin in a South Anchorage Senate race, but remains neck-and-neck with 33.64% of first-choice votes against fellow Republican Sen. Roger Holland with 33.08% and Democrat Roselynn Cacy with 32.93%. More of Cacy’s supporter’s second-choice votes are expected to flow to Giessel, which would likely see her elected back to the Senate.
• In Downtown Fairbanks, Democratic challenger Maxine Dibert narrowly increased her lead against Republican Rep. Bart LeBon and Kelly Nash, another Republican for a House seat. Dibert was still a tick under the 50% threshold of first-choice votes, but expected to win.
• Republican Rep. David Nelson increased his lead with 44% of first-choice votes for a Northeast Anchorage House seat, ahead of Democrats Cliff Groh with 35% and Lyn Franks with 20%. Groh is expected to come from behind and win if a majority of Franks’ supporter’s second-voice votes go to him.
• Democrat Denny Wells increased his lead with 47% of first-choice votes against Republican Rep. Tom Mckay with 39% and Danny Eibeck, another Republican, with 14%. Wells is on track to win unless the vast majority of Eibeck supporters ranked McKay second for the Sand Lake House seat.
• Nonpartisan candidate Walt Featherly is still leading for an open Lower Hillside House seat with 45% of first-choice votes against Republican Julie Coulombe with 39% and Ross Bieling, another Republican, with 15%. Featherly will win unless most of Bieling’s second-choice votes go to Coulombe.
The Division of Elections will conduct an additional and final ballot count on Wednesday before running a livestreamed ranked choice tabulation, starting at 4 p.m.