Alaska’s 2014 gubernatorial race was neck and neck as polls closed on Tuesday, November 4. Incumbent Republican Governor Sean Parnell trailed independent Bill Walker 46.42 percent to 47.83 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
At the end of election night, nearly 38,000 early, absentee, and late ballots still had to be counted. After nearly two weeks of no one calling the race one way or another, on Saturday, November 15, CNN projected Walker the winner with 48 percent of the vote.teamed up with Democrat Byron Mallott to create the ‘Alaska First Unity’ ticket in September — Walker for governor and Mallot for lieutenant governor. The move turned Parnell’s re-election campaign from ‘a sure thing’ to one of the closest gubernatorial races in the country.
A majority of Alaskans are not affiliated with any political party. Over 270,000 Alaskans are registered as either ‘undeclared’ or ‘nonpartisan.’ Walker managed to win just enough of this key demographic to defeat the incumbent.
Tangential to the governor’s race may have been Ballot Measure 2, a proposal that would legalize marijuana in the state. The measure passed on Election Day with 52 percent in favor to 48 percent opposed.
With margins as slim as they were for the Alaska First Unity ticket, support for marijuana legalization among independents may have brought out enough voters to give Walker and Mallott a much needed bump in a year of anemic Democratic turnout — even though the Walker/Mallott ticket actually opposed legalization.
According to Gallup:
“Independents’ growing support for legalization has mostly driven the jump in Americans’ overall support. Sixty-two percent of independents now favor legalization, up 12 points from November 2012.”
In an election marked by uncanny coalitions and low turnout, it may well have been Alaska’s independent voters who delivered the governorship for Walker.