Independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker maintained his lead after thousands of additional votes were counted Friday, leading the Associated Press to declare the race for Walker over Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.
Walker, running with Democrat Byron Mallott on an independent ticket, held a narrow advantage for the entire race starting on election night Nov. 4.
At the end of the counting on Friday, Walker led by 4,634 votes or 1.7 percent, with about 270,000 total votes counted.
The ticket is expected to become the state's first non-party team to win a gubernatorial race.
Walker said Friday evening he was "quite optimistic" he would win but was not celebrating. He planned to spend the night at home in Anchorage with his wife, Donna, and grandchildren.
"There are still votes out there, but it looks pretty difficult for Parnell to overcome the leads and the trends we've seen so far. So we're becoming more and more confident we've won the race," he said.
Parnell's campaign spokesperson, Luke Miller, said late Friday the campaign is reviewing the numbers.
"No concession yet, just currently looking at the numbers," he said.
Walker has moved forward with plans to assemble a broad "transition team" of about 250 Alaskans who, should he win, plan to publicly meet next weekend at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus to discuss a variety of policy issues and goals in preparation for the Dec. 1 swearing-in, he said.
In the past there have been state funds available to help with such transitions, but Walker said he did not know if that would happen this time.
"We hope so, because it will be a spendy thing to get all these people together," he said, adding the funds could help pay for costs when individuals or organizations cannot pay for all expenses.
More than 26,300 votes were counted around the state Friday, leaving about 9,800 to be counted starting Monday, said Gail Fenumiai, Elections Division director.
More votes could "straggle" in at this point, but they are not likely to come in large numbers, she said.
The race featured two big twists that worked against Parnell, who had been virtually guaranteed of winning the election shortly after he became the Republican choice for governor in the Aug. 19 primary.
The first shudder came in early September, when independent candidate Walker, a Republican who had dropped his party affiliation, joined forces with the Democratic gubernatorial primary pick Mallott.
The odd marriage left Democrats without an official ticket for governor but greatly enhanced the chance Parnell would lose in the new, two-way contest.
Parnell was also wounded by the Alaska National Guard scandal that stemmed from long-running allegations of sexual assaults and favoritism and a damning report issued by the National Guard Bureau, an investigation Parnell ordered after years of complaints.
News reports about the scandal surfaced regularly in the race's closing weeks, including after the Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Public Media sued and won for the release of records that the Parnell had administration had kept bottled up for months despite multiple open-records requests.
State deficit woes that are expected to exceed $2 billion this year, with plunging oil prices adding to the misery, also likely didn't help.
And while Parnell ran an aggressive campaign that raised serious questions about how the Republican-Democrat union would address critical social issues such as abortion rights, it didn't pick up steam until late in the game.
Former attorney general Dan Sullivan also continued to hold his lead over Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, and by Friday evening Sullivan led by 7,718 votes or 2.8 percent.
Begich has not conceded the race, but Sullivan has begun making preparations for office.
"Senator Begich believes every vote deserves to be counted, including those in Juneau," spokesperson Max Croes said. "It's frustrating the Division of Elections hasn't finished counting yet, but the DOE continues to work to ensure every voice is heard and we respect the process."
What's not counted Friday, including any additional ballots that may come in, will be counted Monday and Tuesday, said Gail Fenumiai, state elections director.
Also close is an Anchorage House race in which Democrat Matt Claman increased an 86-vote lead over Republican Anand Dubey ?to 91 votes. And one Southeast district saw a reversal of fortunes Friday. At the beginning of the day, Republican Chere Klein led independent Dan Ortiz by nine votes in House District 36; by 3:30 p.m. Friday, Ortiz had 102 votes over Klein.