Nov 11, 2014 9:49 PM

Alaska counts ballots that will decide Senate race

The Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) Republican Dan Sullivan was maintaining his lead over Democratic Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska's U.S. Senate race Tuesday as election workers began counting absentee ballots.

Sullivan held an advantage of nearly 8,100 votes as the counting continued Tuesday evening. Earlier in the day, election workers started tabulating about 50,000 absentee, questioned and early-voted ballots from last week's election. The counting was expected to continue later this week.

News reporters and observers affiliated with candidates or political parties watched as election workers opened ballots, reviewed those in which voters' qualifications were questioned, and tallied votes in election centers in Juneau and other parts of the state.

Sullivan had extended his lead by several hundred votes Tuesday before falling back to an edge comparable to the one he held on election night.

But Begich is no stranger to come-from-behind wins. In 2008, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens led Begich by about 3,000 votes in a race Begich won about two weeks later by fewer than 4,000 votes.

The dynamics of that race were different, however, with the election coming days after a jury found Stevens guilty in a federal corruption trial. The case was later tossed out by a judge, prompting many Republicans to believe Begich's win was a fluke.

Republicans in Alaska, as in other states, made this race a referendum on President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. Obama lost in Alaska by wide margins in 2008 and 2012.

Republicans have said Sullivan's lead is insurmountable. But Begich has said every vote should be counted a point his campaign spokesman, Max Croes, reiterated Tuesday.

"Tens of thousands of votes remain uncounted, and those Alaskans deserve for their voices to be heard," Croes said by email. "The Division of Elections has not yet begun to count outstanding ballots for significant portions of the state."

Begich has returned to Washington, D.C., as Congress gears up to finish out this session.

While the race had been closely watched nationally because of its potential to help decide control of the Senate, that drama has been decided. The GOP has already picked up the seats it needs.

Alaskans also hoped to get greater clarity on the governor's race. Incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell trailed independent candidate Bill Walker by about 3,800 votes as counting continued Tuesday evening.


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