Independent candidate Bill Walker has won the Alaska governor's race, following an aggressive challenge to Republican Gov. Sean Parnell that included joining campaigns with a Democratic rival.
"I am beyond myself with excitement," Walker said Friday evening. "It has been a long, long journey with a whole lot of Alaskans at my side."
Walker grabbed a slim lead on election night, but the race was too close to call while absentee and questioned voters were counted this week. Walker won Friday when it became evident that Parnell could not overcome Walker's lead.
An attorney and former mayor of Valdez, Walker is the first candidate unaffiliated with a party to be elected governor since statehood. Walker's mentor, Wally Hickel, served a term as governor with the Alaskan Independence Party, a recognized third-party in the state, before going back to the GOP.
Walker, who finished second to Parnell in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary, bypassed this year's primary by gathering signatures to support an outside run. But Walker didn't change his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared until forming a "unity ticket" on the November ballot with Democrat Byron Mallott as the candidate for lieutenant governor.
Mallott won the Democratic nomination for governor in August, but a Walker-Mallott ticket was seen as more competitive to Parnell, who ran with Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, a fellow Republican. Walker and Mallott joined forces in early September at the urging of labor interests and others.
Parnell accused Walker of having no specific plans and contradictory views, such as saying Medicaid and education would be looked at, with other areas, for possible spending cuts, while also supporting Medicaid expansion.
Parnell faced sharp criticism in the lead-up to the election over his administration's handling of allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct within the Alaska National Guard. Parnell said he and his staff followed up on every allegation they received.
Parnell has served as governor since July 2009, when Sarah Palin resigned, and he won election in his own right in 2010 with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.