JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Republican Dan Sullivan won Alaska's U.S. Senate race, defeating first-term incumbent Democrat Mark Begich.
Sullivan led Begich by about 8,100 votes on Election Night last week and held a comparable edge after election workers had counted about 20,000 absentee, early-voted and questioned ballots late Tuesday. Thousands more ballots remained to be counted, but the results indicated that Begich could not overcome Sullivan's lead.
The Alaska seat was initially considered key to the Republicans' hopes of taking control of the U.S. Senate, but that goal was accomplished before the Alaska race was decided.
Sullivan, in a statement, said he was humbled and sounded a note of inclusion. While it was a hard-fought race, moving forward "I want to emphasize that my door will always be open to all Alaskans," he said.
"While we have challenges to address, the opportunities in Alaska and our country are limitless," Sullivan said. "Today, we are going to begin the process of turning our country around and building a brighter future for our children."
Begich was not conceding. His campaign manager, Susanne Fleek-Green, said in a statement that Begich believes every vote deserves to be counted and will follow the Division of Elections as it continues toward a final count.
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 the current race a referendum on President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. Obama lost in Alaska by wide margins in 2008 and 2012.
On Tuesday, 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, a first-time candidate, ran a confident campaign, ignoring the debate schedule Begich released during the primary and setting his own agenda. He also attracted some star power to the state, with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney rallying support for Sullivan in the waning days of the hotly contested race.
Sullivan pledged to fight federal overreach, talked about the need for an energy renaissance in the U.S.
Begich said Sullivan offered little in the way of proposals for what he would do as senator. Begich touted his clout, including a position on the power Senate Appropriations Committee, and tried to paint sharp contrasts between himself and Sullivan in areas such as women's health, education and Alaska issues.
Begich, for example, was born and raised in Alaska. He cast Sullivan, who grew up in Ohio, as an outsider, and many of the early attacks by pro-Begich groups keyed in to that theme. That perception of Sullivan made for an at-times uncomfortable debate on fisheries issues, in which questioners grilled Sullivan about his knowledge of one of Alaska's most important industries.
On several occasions, Sullivan's wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, an Alaska Native and frequent companion on the campaign trail, appeared in ads defending her husband's ties to the state and his positions on women's issues.
Sullivan has roots in Alaska dating to the 1990s but was gone for nearly seven years for military service and work in Washington, D.C., that included working as an assistant secretary of state. He returned to Alaska in 2009, when he was appointed attorney general by then-Gov. Sarah Palin.
He most recently served as Alaska's natural resources commissioner, a post he left in September 2013, to make his first run for public office.
Sullivan hit the ground running, exhibiting a fundraising prowess that rivaled and during some quarters exceeded that of Begich. Many of his supporters cited his service in the Marine Corps reserves or repeated the oft-repeated GOP refrain that became of hallmark of the campaign — that Begich voted with Obama "97 percent of the time," a figure that takes into account votes during 2013, many of them on confirmations, on which Obama stated a preference.
Sullivan publicly sought to tamp down expectations of a win, even as campaign members expressed great confidence in a victory in the lead-up to the Nov. 4 election and said the Democrats' much-talked-about ground game wasn't all it was made out to be.
It was estimated that tens of millions of dollars were pumped into the state, with Republicans seeing Begich as vulnerable and Democrats trying to hold the seat Begich won in 2008.