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ANCHORAGE - Voters have rewarded Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell with his own four-year term more than a year after he took the reins of state government following Sarah Palin's resignation.
Parnell, a Republican, defeated Democrat Ethan Berkowitz Tuesday after a campaign that emphasized steady, competent leadership and a conservative agenda on social issues. Parnell promised a pro-business climate that would provide incentives to petroleum companies to keep drilling for oil that could keep the trans-Alaska pipeline vital.
He also has maintained Palin's plan for a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline.
Parnell and running mate Mead Treadwell defeated Berkowitz and running mate Diane Benson with about 59 percent of the vote.
Parnell ran as Palin's running mate in 2006 and served as lieutenant governor until she abruptly quit in July 2009, eight months after she vaulted to national prominence as John McCain's running mate.
"I'm just thankful that Alaska has chosen Parnell-Treadwell," Parnell said. "We're ready to get to work. We're going to maintain that focus on jobs and the economy, and we're ready to go."
With 16 months in office, he said, he believes he's earned the trust of Alaskans.
"I think this ticket was focused on filling the oil pipeline, getting us a gas line, and moving the state forward," he said. "And again, I'm grateful to Alaskans for that trust and want to continue earning it for the next four years."
Berkowitz criticized Parnell for embracing Palin's agenda and for what he called a tepid response to problems facing Alaska's petroleum-dependent economy. Berkowitz said bold, new measures were needed to create jobs, provide incentives to keep oil in the trans-Alaska pipeline, and build a gas pipeline.
"We came forward with the proposals that should work," he said. "The fact that we were able to move the other guys says how strong was the campaign we ran.
Berkowitz, a 10-year veteran of the state House, was on the Democratic ticket as the lieutenant governor candidate four years ago and for U.S House two years ago.
As he awaited results Tuesday night, he said he was pleased with his campaign.
"It was about ideas. I just hope the voters concur with my judgment," he said. "But I have every confidence that I would be a better governor."
His message, he said, was not as widely distributed as he would have liked, given the constraints of financing rules. He also said he likely was hurt by a $700,000 "bailout" for Parnell by the Republican Governors Association.
"They put more money in this race in the last 10 days than we were able to generate in a year," he said. "That's a tremendous amount of out-of-state money, and I would hope that Alaskans would disregard what outsiders would have to say about any one of us."
Voters interviewed at Tuesday afternoon at a downtown Anchorage polling place, Denali Elementary School, split between the two candidates.
Natasha Norris, originally a supporter of Democrat Hollis French, voted for Berkowitz because of Parnell's veto of an expansion of Denali KidCare, a health insurance program for low-income families. Parnell announced the veto in June, saying he had recently found out the program paid for abortions.
Norris said the program is crucial for many Alaska families.
"What Sean Parnell did with the Denali KidCare sealed his fate for me," Norris said.
But Camile Zelenock said she voted for the incumbent because she admires the job he's done.
"He came into the office and worked with a crew he didn't pick out, and he did quite well with that," she said.