Republicans picked up another Senate takeaway overnight — at least according to the Associated Press, which called Dan Sullivan the winner in the Alaska election. With 40% of the 50,000 absentee ballots counted, Sullivan’s lead has barely changed over incumbent Democrat Mark Begich, and the almost-8,000 vote lead looks insurmountable with just 30,000 ballots left. Begich isn’t conceding yet, though:
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. …
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.
In that case, with the guilty verdict ringing in voters’ ears, the absentee ballots mailed in the final days no doubt provided a boost to the Democrat, although it’s probably a little too glib to call Begich a fluke. The Begich name carries significant weight in Alaska politics, and the long tenure of Stevens had conflicted with the “hope and change” political impulse of that cycle. Stevens’ pork-barrel politics, although usually popular in Alaska, became a bit of an embarrassment, especially with the “Bridge to Nowhere.” Stevens might have won except for that conviction, but Begich was a legitimate contender.
In fact, even with the Republican wave, Begich turned out to be a legitimate contender in a red state this year, too. Thanks to the difficulties of polling in this state, no one was quite sure how the race would turn out, but most people assumed it would be a close-run Republican win. That same expectation turned out to be laughably wrong in places like Georgia, Kentucky, and even Kansas, but Begich made it a race in Alaska.
However, the end is certainly nigh now. With around 30,000 ballots to go, Begich would have to win 19,000 to edge Sullivan, which is 63% of the remaining ballots. Absentee ballots generally tilt Republican in Alaska, not Democratic, and the trend through the first two-fifths of the absentees has been an almost-even split, so getting 63% of the remaining votes looks more and more like sheer fantasy for the Democratic incumbent. Sheer fantasy doesn’t cost Begich anything at this point, though, so why concede?
The shoe may soon be on the other foot in the gubernatorial race, though. Bill Walker’s unity ticket slightly extended its lead over incumbent Republican Sean Parnell overnight:
In the governor’s race after Tuesday’s update, Walker had 117,130 total votes to Parnell’s 113,126, giving Walker a 4,004-vote or 1.6 percent edge.
That was slightly higher than the count on election night, when Walker had a 1.4 percent lead — a difference of 3,165 votes — over Parnell.
“We have to make up some ground and it will be have to be somewhat substantial,” said Parnell’s campaign manager Tom Wright, before adding, “…there’s a lot of ballots left. It looks like it’s been back and forth today.”
Absentee votes typically skew Republican, Wright said, but it’s difficult to judge what will happen as counting continues because it’s unknown how many Republican voters cast a ballot in favor of Walker.
Walker, who had been running as an independent, changed his Republican registration to “undeclared” when his running mate, Democrat Byron Mallott, abandoned his own campaign for governor and signed on to the Walker ticket as lieutenant governor in September.
With 30,000 votes left, Parnell needs to get 55.2% of the remaining vote. That’s at least a little more realistic than Begich’s situation, especially because Parnell is the Republican. However, the first 20,000 absentee ballots didn’t split out that way, and it’s less and less likely that such a trend will develop in what they have left. This one may stretch out for a couple of more counting sessions, but don’t be surprised if the AP makes a call in the gubernatorial race soon, too.