ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich wasn't conceding anything Wednesday in his race against Republican challenger Dan Sullivan.
Sullivan held a 3.6 percentage point lead over Begich with all precincts reporting. Thousands of absentee ballots won't be counted until Nov. 11.
In a statement Wednesday, Begich campaign manager Susanne Fleek-Green said the campaign wants a final vote count. Republicans said they believe the margin is insurmountable.
Both sides expressed confidence in the waning days of the campaign, with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a tea party favorite, and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney rallying support for Sullivan. Begich, meanwhile, deployed his "big guns" — his wife and mom — to outlying communities to support get-out-the-vote efforts as he shook as many hands as possible.
Begich has been in this position before. He trailed Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican icon in Alaska, by about 3,000 votes after the 2008 general election only to win by nearly 4,000 votes when absentee ballots were counted. Begich is behind Sullivan by just over 8,000 votes.
On Tuesday night, as early results showed him trailing Sullivan, he told supporters packed into a downtown Anchorage restaurant that he'd like to win on Election Night for once and urged them to hold firm.
During the campaign, Begich played up his homegrown roots while portraying Sullivan, whose roots here date to the 1990s, as an outsider with rich supporters trying to buy a Senate seat. A leader in the Senate Democratic caucus, Begich cast himself as an independent voice for Alaskans and sought to distance himself from President Barack Obama.
But Republicans made the race a referendum on Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. Exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks found about 8 in 10 voters who said they were satisfied with the job Obama was doing voted for Begich, but about 8 in 10 voters who said they were angry about Obama's time in office supported Sullivan.
An oft-repeated line by Sullivan supporters was that Begich voted with Obama "97 percent of the time," a figure that included votes, many of them on confirmations, on which Obama stated a preference in 2013.
Pollster Ivan Moore said that was the single-most memorable message of the race.
Whichever candidate wins the contest won't affect control of the Senate. Republicans gained seven seats in Tuesday's elections, more than enough to grab the majority.