AP Calls Alaska Senate Race For Republican Dan Sullivan, An Eighth GOP Pickup
A week after Election Day, the Associated Press has called the Alaska Senate race for Republican Dan Sullivan, representing another Republican pickup assuming that the result holds through the official count:
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Republican Dan Sullivan won Alaska’s U.S. Senate race, defeating incumbent Democrat Mark Begich.
Sullivan led Begich by about 8,100 votes on Election Night last week, and when state officials counted absentee and questioned ballots Tuesday, 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 was accomplished election night with the GOP sweep.
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. and at seemingly every opportunity, sought to tie Begich to President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who are unpopular in Alaska.
Begich complained that Sullivan offered little in the way of proposals for what he would do as senator. Begich also 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.
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. Voters were barraged by calls and ads, which many said they were turned off by.
Sullivan emerged from a hard-fought, three-way GOP primary to take on Begich, who had token opposition. Begich focused during that race on bolstering his homespun image, casting himself as an independent thinker unafraid to stand up to Obama, with a record of working across party lines, including with Alaska’s senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski, who backed Sullivan after the primary and is in line to chair the Senate energy committee now that Republicans have taken over the Senate, told Begich to knock it off.
The current official count has Sullivan with an 8,000 vote lead over Begich, which even in Alaska seems like a lead that is going to be hard for the first-term Senator to overcome. In some sense, though, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Six years ago, Begich ended up beating long time Senator Ted Stevens, who had been a fixture in Alaska politics virtually from the beginning of the statehood era, by less than 4,000 votes, and that happened in the context of a trial on corruption charges in which Stevens ultimately saw the charges against him expunged due to misconduct by the prosecutors. Indeed, but for that trial it seems clear that Stevens would have easily beaten Begich that year. So, Begich was hanging by a thin thread going into this race.
Assuming the numbers hold up, and it looks like they will, this will be GOP’s eighth Senate pickup this year, giving us a current balance in the 114th Congress of 53 Republicans, 46 in the Democratic Caucus, including 2 Independents, and the Louisiana Senate seat outstanding and possibly a ninth Republican pickup.