The Alaska gubernatorial campaign has become a three-way free-for-all since former governor Walter Hickel (R) jumped into the race as a conservative third-party candidate last month.

Hickel's bid was expected to ensure victory for Democrat Tony Knowles, a former Anchorage mayor. But an independent poll last week showed Republican nominee Arliss Sturgulewski with 34 percent, Knowles with 29 and Hickel with 25. "It's not going to be the slam-dunk that some people thought," Anchorage pollster Dave Dittman said.

As predicted, Hickel is splitting the GOP vote. He is getting much of his support from those who otherwise would have voted for the more moderate Sturgulewski, but surprisingly the poll showed that some of those who said they would have voted for Knowles are now supporting Sturgulewski to keep Hickel from winning.

Sturgulewski, a supporter of abortion rights, also is benefiting from women's support. The state nurses' association, for example, is showing its support for Sturgulewski by distributing condoms that say "Watch out for Wally."

Adding to this mix is Jim Sykes of the environmentalist Alaska Green Party, who is expected to pull 2 or 3 percent of the vote. His support could come at the expense of Knowles, who has risked alienating environmentalists by supporting oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.