In the wee hours of Aug. 22, Walter J. Hickel looked at the 75 percent-tabulated Alaska gubernational vote and told supporters. "You can go home and sleep well if want to - we've got this one in the bag."
But Hickel was wrong.
When Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond went to sleep Wednesday, he still trailed Republican primary challenger Hickel by about 1 percent of the vote. He awoke yesterday as the leader, though, atop the crest of a four-one hundredths percent plurality.
Nine days after the Aug. 22 balloting, it had come down to that: a 37-vote difference in a total GOP vote of 81,402.
And, as if that weren't enough for the frayed nerves of Alaska election watchers, the margin between leading Democratic hopefuls is just 314 of the 24,619 votes cast in the primary race.
Election returns from this $85,000 square miles of campaign tuft are still dribbling in - and at this point, every dribble counts $99;[WORD ILLEGIBLE] officials in [WORD ILLEGIBLE]say[WORD ILLEGIBLE]ballots postmarked by the [WORD ILLEGIBLE]election [WORD ILLEGIBLE]at their office, with most of the late arrivals coming from the Alsutian chain stretching put four time zones and 2,000 miles to the west.
Obviously, nobody is claiming victory yet, and a state-mandated recount is a certainty.
The latest semi-official almost-final results yesterday morning stacked up with Hammond at 31,750; Hickel, 31,713; Anchorage insurance man Tom Fink, 17,481; and fringe candidate Jimmie Drew Lockhart, 478.
Hammond, who campaigned on an environmentalist platform and took office on the strength of a recounted 287-vote victory four years ago, posted dramatic gains between election night and yesterday morning's results. He tralled the pro-development Hickel by more than 900 votes at some points, but pulled ahead with victories in the slow-to-report rural precincts and on absentee and questioned ballots counted in the last several days.
Questioned ballots generally come from voters who cast ballots in precincts other than their home districts. TTS - Deremer.
Without alleging wrongdoing, Hickel campaign manager Len Hansen called this "the worst-run election in the history of the state. It leaves grave questions in a number of areas."
Attorney General Avrum Gross, a Hammond appointee said, "former Alaska attorney general Edgar Paul Boyko or anybody else is welcome to look at what has occurred. I just hope everyone will remain as reasonable and calm as they had in the last week when Mr. Hickel was leading."
In addition, Hammond supporters said Tuesday they plan to challenge 532 absentee votes collected among North Slope oil workers by officials of Alaska Teamsters Union Local 956.
Many of the North Slope camps are hundreds of miles from the polling both.
They voted, with the apparent authorization of some election supervisors, under a "disabled voter" provision usually reserved for invalds. The use of such disabled voter ballots is probably illegal, Gross has said. Nobody knows what a successful court challenge would mean, but one prominently mentioned remedy is a new election.
Even on the Democratic side - when Anchorage state Sen. Chancy Croft's 311-vote lead looks like a landslide none of three candidates is claiming victory.
Election officials say it may be midmonth - less than 60 days before the Nov. 7 general election - before the outcome is known.