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Republican Declares Victory In Alaska Senate Race As Begich Refuses To Concede

by Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage) (MCT)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — As Alaska Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan declared victory early Wednesday, incumbent Democrat Mark Begich was not ready to concede his seat.

The Associated Press called the race for Sullivan after more votes were counted Tuesday, a week after the Nov. 4 election.

“I am deeply humbled and honored to serve my fellow Alaskans in the United States Senate,” Sullivan said in a statement early Wednesday. “Our campaign was about opportunity — because I truly believe that there is nothing that is wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what’s right with Alaska.”

But as Sullivan and his campaign celebrated, Begich still saw a chance to overcome a large deficit. Begich has chipped away at Sullivan’s lead since Tuesday morning, but he is still down about 8,000 votes. On Wednesday morning, Begich referred questions to his campaign managers.

“Sen. Begich believes every vote deserves to be counted in this election,” Begich campaign manager Susanne Fleek-Green said in the statement. “There are tens of thousands of outstanding votes and Senator Begich has heard from rural Alaskans that their votes deserve to be counted and their voices deserve to be heard. He will honor those requests and will follow the Alaska Division of Elections as it continues its process and timetable to reach a final count and allow every Alaskan’s vote to speak.”

The Alaska Elections Division counted more than 17,000 votes on Tuesday, following the counting of more than 220,000 votes immediately after the Nov. 4 general election. A victory appears very unlikely for Begich, though tens of thousands of votes remain to be counted. A statement sent by the Elections Division shows a known quantity of more than 30,000 questioned and absentee ballots remain to be counted.

It was the costliest campaign in Alaska’s history. Between Sullivan’s and Begich’s campaigns and the groups supporting them, $50 million poured into the state, much of it in the form of a massive advertising blitz. The stakes were high, and not just in Alaska. In Washington, D.C., Republicans had long ago targeted Begich’s seat in the hopes of flipping control of the Senate out of the hands of Democrats.

“This was a hard-fought race,” Sullivan said in a statement. “As we move forward, I want to emphasize that my door will always be open to all Alaskans.”

Sullivan is a former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner who served in the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush.

Begich had been the first Democrat from Alaska to serve in the Senate since Mike Gravel, who served between 1969 and 1981. A former two-term Anchorage mayor, Begich won his Senate seat in 2008 just one week after the long-serving incumbent, Republican Ted Stevens, was convicted of federal corruption charges that were later invalidated.

Photo: SenateDemocrats via Flickr

With GOP Likely To Pick Up Alaska, Republicans Up To 53 Senate Seats In ’15

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (MCT)

Looks like Republicans will have at least 53, and more likely 54, seats in the Senate that convenes in January.

With all Alaska precincts reporting, Republican Dan Sullivan had a 4 percentage point lead over Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat. The Alaska Dispatch News reports Begich has not conceded. Thousands of uncounted absentee and early ballots have not been counted, and probably won’t be tallied until next week.

The account said Begich’s team is hoping to make big gains in rural areas, where he has traditionally done well. But he has “daunting” odds, the paper reported.

The official Senate count for the 114th Congress now stands at 52 Republicans, 43 Democrats, two independents who will caucus with Democrats, and three races outstanding. In Virginia, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner is ahead of Republican Ed Gillespie and is expected to win that race.

The last contest to be decided is in Louisiana, where no one got a majority. Republican Bill Cassidy is favored to defeat Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, in the December 6 runoff. Landrieu won 42 percent in Tuesday’s election, while Cassidy got 41 percent.

Alaska Races For Governor, Senator To Hinge On Absentee Ballots

By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Alaska independent Bill Walker maintained a slim lead in the governor’s race over incumbent Republican Sean Parnell on Wednesday, while Democratic Sen. Mark Begich trailed Republican challenger Dan Sullivan after a fierce campaign in which Begich sought to distance himself from President Barack Obama.

But with absentee ballots and some early ballots yet to be counted, both races remained too close to call.

With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Walker had 48 percent of the vote to Parnell’s 46.6 percent — a 3,165-vote lead out of nearly 224,000 cast. Sullivan had 49 percent to Begich’s 45.3 percent, and a lead of 8,149 votes.

Absentee ballots must be received by Nov. 14, and officials have until Nov. 19 to count them.

Begich noted Tuesday night that he had trailed on election night in 2008 too, but eventually defeated incumbent Ted Stevens when all the votes were counted.

“We’ve seen this play before,” Begich told supporters. “It’s gonna be a long night. It might be a long week…. I’ll take a win however it comes.”

Walker, a former Republican running for governor as an independent, said his campaign would send observers to monitor election officials’ count of the absentee ballots and of the remaining early votes.

In a statement Wednesday, Walker said he and his running mate, Democrat Byron Mallott, were “humbled that so many Alaskans have put their trust in us…. We are invigorated by the optimism and dedication of so many Alaskans across party lines to move our state forward.”

Early in the race, Parnell was considered likely to win, but two developments ate away at his chances.

After the primaries in late August, Parnell faced two opponents: Walker and Mallott. But the challengers realized they were destined to lose a three-way race, so they joined forces. Not long after Labor Day, the Walker-Mallott unity ticket was unveiled.

Parnell was also hurt by the daily drumbeat of bad press about a wide sexual abuse scandal in the Alaska National Guard, of which the governor is commander in chief.

Allegations of sexual assault and official stonewalling in the Guard were first reported in the Anchorage Daily News a year ago, when a group of Guard chaplains disclosed that victims of sexual assault had been coming to them for years.

Many of the women said they had been raped by fellow Guard members. Some said they had been drugged and assaulted. The chaplains said they reported the allegations to Parnell in 2010, but nothing resulted from their conversations.

A scathing, 229-page report by the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations released in September found that complaints by some sexual assault victims before 2012 were not properly documented, that victims were not referred to victim advocates, that their confidentiality was breached and that, “in some cases, the victims were ostracized by their leaders, peers and units.”

Parnell spent the last two months of the campaign defending his actions in the spreading scandal.

In the Senate race, Sullivan, a former state attorney general, spent months attacking Begich as a tool of the Obama administration, a senator who voted with the president “97 percent of the time” and who cast the deciding ballot in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

For his part, Begich rarely uttered the president’s name unless prompted by a voter at a campaign event. But he told anyone who would listen that he voted with popular Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, his Republican counterpart, “80 percent of the time.” (Finally, Murkowski sent him a cease-and-desist order after an ad presented the duo as a unified team.)

About that deciding Obamacare vote? Begich had a tart response, telling Republican challengers that “every senator was the 60th” deciding vote if that senator was an incumbent Democrat.

“I was No. 6 in the vote, if you want to be technical about it,” Begich said at a town hall meeting in the waning weeks of the campaign. “Because it’s a role call vote. A. B. C. I was No. 6.”

The race was the most expensive in Alaska history, with more than $40 million in outside spending alone, because it was one of a handful viewed as crucial in deciding control of the U.S. Senate.

Before the polls had closed in the Last Frontier on Tuesday night, however, the Senate had already gone over to Republican hands. As of Wednesday, the GOP had won 52 seats, and three more states — including Alaska — remained to be decided.

Photo: SenateDemocrats via Flickr

Alaska: Sullivan Holds Lead Over Begich In U.S. Senate Race

By Nathaniel Herz, Alaska Dispatch News, Anchorage (MCT)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska’s Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan took and held an early lead over incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich with more than a third of the precincts reporting Tuesday night.

With 160 of 441 precincts reporting, Sullivan led 49 percent to 44 percent. The margin remained essentially the same from the first returns earlier in the evening.

The Senate race was the costliest campaign in the state’s history, with more than $50 million spent by the two major candidates and the groups that supported them.

The race was viewed as potentially pivotal in flipping control of the Senate out of the hands of Democrats.

By the time polls closed in Alaska at 8 p.m., however, control of the Senate was already decided, with Republicans winning key races in Colorado, Arkansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.

Sullivan appeared at the Election Central gathering place at the Egan Convention Center just before 9 p.m., with his family and a crowd of several dozen sign-waving supporters in tow.

He did three television interviews, then appeared on a talk radio program, telling host Dave Stieren — who was paid to consult with Sullivan’s campaign earlier this year — that the early results were “a little bit of a surprise to me.”

Asked about his race in the context of the strong Republican showings in Senate races around the country, Sullivan said: “We’ll let the evening play out.”

Asked about the returns in those states, a spokesman for Begich, Max Croes, said in a phone interview: “We’re focused on Alaska, the same that we have been our entire campaign.”

State elections officials are also expecting tens of thousands of additional votes that won’t be counted until next week, at the earliest. That includes some 20,000 absentee votes the state hadn’t counted as of Tuesday evening, and even more absentee ballots will continue to arrive until a Nov. 19 deadline.

In Alaska, Sullivan was the favorite as voting began Tuesday. He’d led in nearly all of the pre-election polls, and Republicans outnumber Democrats in Alaska by a 2-to-1 margin — though there are more independent and unaffiliated voters than people in both parties combined.

Begich, a former Anchorage mayor, won his seat in 2008 by less than 4,000 votes, just one week after the long-serving incumbent, Ted Stevens, was convicted of federal corruption charges that were later tossed. On Tuesday, Begich was seeking to win his fourth straight campaign, a string dating back to his first successful bid for mayor in 2003.

Backed by an $11 million ad campaign funded primarily by a Washington, D.C.,-based Democratic super PAC and by a seven-figure ground game investment by the national Democratic Party, Begich was aiming to prove that his election in 2008 was more than a fluke, and that Alaska could elect a Democrat on his own merits.

The Democrats emphasized instances when Begich said he’s bucked President Barack Obama and his shared positions with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. They also touted Begich’s knowledge of Alaska issues, his friendly positions to Alaska Natives, to seniors, and to pro-choice women, and they tried to tag Sullivan, who was raised in Ohio, as an evasive outsider backed by big-moneyed interests.

Stephanie Simon, 51, a stay-at-home mom who was voting in East Anchorage, said Tuesday she voted for Begich even though she’s a Republican.

“He really does work across party lines,” she said, adding that Begich and his wife are “very earnest about what they’re trying to do for Alaska.”

Henry Watson, a 34-year-old African-American from Anchorage who early-voted for Begich last week, said he chose the Democrat because “he’s more for minorities.”

“He comes to our functions, and he has a voice,” Watson said outside his Midtown Anchorage polling place. “He doesn’t show up just for us to see his face.”

Sullivan is a former state attorney general and natural resources commissioner who served in the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush. His campaign stuck to general themes like energy security and federal overreach while joining with big-spending independent Republican groups to link Begich to Obama’s unpopularity in Alaska, and to the president’s signature health care bill, the Affordable Care Act.

Mike Hinshaw, 65, said Tuesday he picked Sullivan because Begich is “just in lockstep with Obama.”

“And that’s sad for America,” said Hinshaw, a veteran and registered independent who was voting in East Anchorage. Begich is under the thumb of Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate, Hinshaw added, saying Democrats only allow Begich to vote against his party “to make himself look good.”

An early voter for Sullivan, Sherrie Walker, 57, of Eagle River, said she was “not sold” on the Republican, adding that “he hasn’t addressed” the attacks on his campaign’s funders, and on his residency history.

“But it’s better than the Big Itch,” she said, using her nickname for Begich.

Several voters said they’d been frustrated by the flood of negative campaign ads on television and radio this year — ads backed by more than $50 million that came primarily from the independent groups, which were newly empowered by a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that invalidated limits on political spending from unions and corporations.

“I was just disgusted by all the negative ads,” said Scott Hines, a 55-year-old Anchorage hospital worker who voted early.

David Breen, 25, also said he was frustrated by the negative tone, but he added that it didn’t affect his vote.

“Both candidates were really dirty this election,” Breen said. “That made that issue moot for me.”

Photo: SenateDemocrats via Flickr