ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaskans won't know who won the governor's race for at least a week, with thousands of early and absentee ballots still uncounted.
The tight race remained too close to call early Wednesday, with Independent candidate Bill Walker holding a razor thin lead over Republican incumbent Sean Parnell.
Walker maintained a lead throughout Tuesday night, but the advantage waned as the night progressed. Both candidates have steered clear of interpreting the counts, although Walker said the returns were exciting.
"We're pleased to be in the lead, but we recognize that it's early, so we'll see as the night progresses how that maintains," he said early in the evening. "But if someone has to be in the lead, we'd rather it'd be us, obviously."
Parnell also noted it was too early to say where the vote was going.
"I'm in a place where we're going to wait and see what more votes look like," he said, adding he was feeling good. "We've got a great group of people who have supported our campaign and just thousands of Alaskans have stepped forward to help. And I'm looking forward to a final count."
Votes from more than three-fourths of Alaska's precincts have been counted, but tens of thousands of ballots will remain out for some time. The state will count about 24,000 early and absentee ballots Nov. 11. There also are nearly 14,000 more absentee ballots that were requested and will be counted if returned in the next two weeks.
Parnell held the early campaign edge in his quest for a second full term. But the race grew increasingly close after Walker joined forces with Byron Mallott, the Democratic gubernatorial primary winner.
Besides facing a stronger challenge from the merged ticket, Parnell has been plagued by criticism from Walker and others that he dithered in handling complaints of sexual abuse within the Alaska National Guard.
Parnell got a last-minute election boost from former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who attended a rally for Parnell and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan in Anchorage on Monday.
Walker received his own high-profile backing from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, who urged voters Monday to support Walker.
At the Anchorage rally, Romney called Parnell a great governor for the future of Alaska. Parnell's running mate is another Dan Sullivan, mayor of Anchorage.
Earlier, as Parnell took the microphone, a crowd of about 300 chanted "four more years."
"Let's take that palpable excitement and put it into action tomorrow, OK?" Parnell said of Tuesday's election.
Walker told The Associated Press on Monday that he had no problem with Romney rallying for Parnell. In fact, Walker — a former Republican — said he voted for Romney. But in this race, Walker's campaign kept the focus on Alaskans.
"We don't need to bring anybody in from outside the state," Walker said.
For weeks leading to Tuesday's election, Parnell has defended himself against criticism that he didn't do enough following complaints of sexual abuse within the Alaska National Guard that emerged in 2010.
Walker was among those who criticized Parnell's handling of the Guard scandal.
Voter Wanda Feltman of Anchorage, a Republican, said it was a difficult issue to wade through. But in the end, she believed the issue was politicized, and she gave Parnell her vote. She believes he did the best he could to respond to allegations.
"I seriously don't believe that he ever intended to let anything go," Feltman, 56, said as she was leaving the polls. "There's such a fine line, and you've to go through certain protocol. And his hands are sort of tied. I don't believe he could do any more than he could do."
Parnell and his supporters have questioned Walker's pairing with Mallott, pressing Walker for details on how a social conservative could govern with a more liberal second-in-command.
That pairing is exactly what Anchorage voter Eddie Johnson liked about the merged ticket, he said after voting for Walker and Mallott.
"They're willing to cross party lines and work together," said Johnson, 63, a Democrat. "That's what we need, people working together."
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