A day after Republicans swept elections across the country and took control of the U.S. Senate, Alaskans were still waiting for their votes to be counted Wednesday. In the state's contentious Senate battle, Republican Dan Sullivan led Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, by 8,149 votes Wednesday morning, amassing a 49 percent to 45 percent lead, according to UPI.
Because of the difficulty of collecting votes in Alaska, it could take days to see the final results of the race. Sullivan served as Alaska’s attorney general from mid-2009 to late 2010 and left that job to serve as state commissioner of natural resources until late 2013. Alaska has large numbers of military, off-shore and remote in-state residents. To make voting more accessible, the state accepts absentee ballots up to 10 days after the election, if postmarked within the U.S., and 15 days if postmarked outside the country.
Begich was mayor of Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city, from 2003 to 2009 before becoming senator. In 2008, he narrowly defeated Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska institution who had held the seat for 40 years. Just days before the election, Stevens was convicted of corruption charges that were later overturned. Stevens died in a plane crash in 2010. Begich's father, Rep. Nick Begich, disappeared in a plane crash in 1972.
Sullivan had polled ahead of Begich since late August, but only slightly outside the margin of error. The race was considered a toss-up considering the difficulty in polling people across the vast land mass of Alaska. Sullivan polled just barely ahead of Begich among likely voters going into the election.
Begich sits on five Senate committees and was chairman of the Emergency Management, Intergovernmental Relations, and the District of Columbia subcommittee under the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The junior senator is considered a rank-and-file Democrat, based on his voting and bill sponsorship record.
Because it was so hotly contested, the race was considered critical in determining control of the Senate. Republicans needed to take six seats from the Democrats to gain control of the Senate, and Begich was considered vulnerable. The Republican Party pumped $15.7 million into the race, outspending Democrats by $2.7 million, according to Republican ad-buying firm Smart Media Group. Republican and Democratic interest groups contributed the bulk of that money: $14.1 million and $12 million, respectively.