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Alaska's Gov. Bill Sheffield, who survived a Watergate-flavored impeachment...

Alaska's Gov. Bill Sheffield, who survived a Watergate-flavored impeachment effort last summer, conceded Wednesday to challenger Steve Cowper, becoming the first state chief executive to lose a primary this year.

In Oklahoma, the other state with a primary Tuesday, former Gov. Henry Bellmon defeated four GOP challengers in his comeback bid to succeed retiring two-term Democratic Gov. George Nigh.

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Democrats also selected candidates to challenge Republican senators elected in the 1980 Reagan landslide: Oklahoma's Don Nickles and Alaska's Frank Murkowski.

But the surprise result, not determined until early Wednesday morning, was Cowper's win over Sheffield, 57, a first-term governor and Anchorage hotelier.

In conceding, Sheffield said simply: 'I lost and Steve Cowper beat me.'

Cowper, 48, a Fairbanks lawyer and former state legislator, ascribed his victory to Alaskans' dissatisfaction with Sheffield's proposals to halt the state's economic decline brought on by the massive slide in oil prices.

'Alaska's dependence on construction jobs revolving around the oil industry is not satisfactory,' he said. 'The old way of doing business has been cast from the scene.'

In the 1982 primary, Sheffield beat Cowper -- pronounced Cooper -- by 259 votes.

With 97 percent of the ballots counted Wednesday, Cowper had 32,125 votes to Sheffield's 23,632.

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His loss makes Sheffield the first governor this year to lose a primary.

Sheffield is the only governor in Alaska's 27-year history as a state whose actions prompted formal state Senate impeachment hearings. He was cleared of charges that he steered a state office building contract to a political crony.

The proceedings drew key players from the Watergate era, notably Sam Dash, who was counsel for the Senate panel that investigated the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up.

Cowper will face Republican state Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski, 58, who became the first woman nominated for governor in defeating former Gov. Walter Hickel, who served as President Richard Nixon's interior secretary.

Alaska has an open primary, so the winners are determined by the top voter-getters in each party. Cowper received 24.3 percent of the vote, Sheffield 17.8 percent, Sturgulewski 17.5 percent and Hickel 16 percent. Two minor Democratic candidates split the remainder.

Murkowski had no opposition, and former presidential aide Glenn Olds sailed to an easy Democratic primary victory. Rep. Don Young beat three unknown Republican opponents and Democrat Pegge Begich will face him in November.

A nuclear freeze initiative on the ballot gained 58 percent voter support.

Half of Alaska's 280,351 registered voters appeared to have cast ballots.

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In Oklahoma, Democratic Rep. Jim Jones, who is leaving his seat to run against Nickels, held a solid 67 percent lead over George Gentry, a follower of radical Lyndon LaRouche.

'Tomorrow, we start the real work,' Jones said upon claiming victory. 'I'm going to try to get Senator Nickles to come out of hiding.'

The race is among the most critical to GOP hopes of retaining the party's 53-47 control of the Senate.

In the race to succeed Democrat Nigh, leaving the office after a maximum eight years, Bellmon whipped four other Republicans, gaining 70.6 percent to 19.6 percent for his nearest rival, state Rep. Mike Fair.

Bellmon became Oklahoma's first Republican governor in 1962 and served two Senate terms before choosing not to seek re-election in 1980. He decided to get back into politics this year.

The Democratic battle was another story. Attorney General Mike Turpen had been favored in the six-way contest but ran second and braced for a runoff with Oklahoma City businessman David Walters.

Democratic Reps. Mike Synar, Wes Watkins and Dave McCurdy defeated minor opposition.

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