ANCHORAGE - Loren Leman apparently has won a tight Republican primary race for his party's nomination for lieutenant governor.
With nearly 90 percent of votes counted, Leman, the state Senate majority leader, had 29 percent of the lieutenant governor's vote. He held a lead of about 1,400 votes over Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, with 27 percent of the vote. Sen. Robin Taylor followed with 23 percent, and former House Speaker Gail Phillips had 19 percent. Paul R. Wieler was a distant fifth with 2 percent of the vote.
Hand counting of ballots from rural Alaska wasn't expected to be completed until sometime today or even later.
Palin said she felt her strong showing was because Alaskans were eager for a new approach to the state's problems - one that could be modeled on the successes achieved in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
"Collectively my three competitors have served in the Legislature longer than I've been alive," the 38-year-old Palin said.
Leman said he was "cautiously optimistic" that when all the votes were counted he'd remain in the lead. "I knew it was going to be a close race," he said.
Phillips, who left the Legislature in 2000 to run for governor but backed down after U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, declared his intentions, staked out her ground as a moderate in a field of conservatives.
Unlike her opponents, Phillips said she would use some of the investment earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund to help close the state's projected $963 million budget gap. Phillips also supports a $100 per year education head tax. She also would increase oil drilling and improve transportation systems to increase revenues.
The other candidates in the race said they would tackle the budget gap by cutting state spending and also increasing resource extraction.
Taylor, who has served 18 years in the Legislature, portrayed himself in television ads as the candidate who would "always protect your (permanent fund) dividend." He also has said he would reduce state government, consolidate state agencies to increase efficiency, and privatize services when possible.
Leman emphasized his opposition to a personal income tax and stressed that he would leave the PFD alone. He said if elected he would try to cap state spending and reduce the budget, while at the same time encouraging resource development and new economic investment in Alaska. The former commercial fisherman also said he would be proactive on the fisheries front.
"I appreciate his conservative viewpoint in matters that are important to me," said Debbie Graves of Anchorage, after casting her vote for Leman.
Saige Chandler of Peters Creek said she voted for Leman because she didn't recognize any of the other candidates on the ballot.
Leman, at the end of last month, led the fund-raising race with $173,527 - significantly more than his rivals, according to Alaska Public Offices Commission records. Phillips was second with $131,591, and Taylor was third with $108,287. Palin, who portrayed herself as "CEO of Alaska's fastest growing city," had raised less than $40,000.
Anchorage businessman Ernie Hall was the lone Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. He'd raised $55,162.
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