Additional votes counted by the state Elections Division on Wednesday show Sen. Ted Stevens' 3,200-vote lead over challenger Mark Begich disappeared, and Begich now holds an 814-vote lead with thousands yet to be counted.
More than 278,000 votes have been counted, including votes at the polls, early voting at elections offices, absentee votes and questioned ballots.
About 50,000 ballots, mostly absentee and questioned votes, remain to be counted.
The vote tally shows Begich with 132,196 votes to Stevens' 131,382 votes.
"I've always said this would be a close race," Begich said Wednesday. "After watching the votes today I remain cautiously optimistic."
Democrats currently hold 57 seats in the next U.S. Senate, with three races, including Stevens', yet to be decided. If Republican Stevens hangs on to the seat he's held for four decades, it would guarantee that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President-elect Barack Obama could not reach a 60-seat majority.
On Election Day voters gave a small lead to Stevens, the longest-serving Republican ever in the U.S. Senate, but also showed that those who cast early ballots had strongly favored Begich.
Begich said his campaign ran an aggressive early and absentee voting effort.
On Wednesday, more early ballots were counted, including a substantial amount from Juneau, where Begich won by a landslide.
Tens of thousands of absentee votes and questioned ballots also were counted Wednesday.
Some questioned ballots, those cast at the wrong polling place or needing further confirmation from elections officials, were counted Wednesday. Ballots from 10 of 40 districts were counted, with six of those districts being ones that favored Stevens in the vote at the polls. Juneau's questioned ballots were also counted Wednesday.
Yet to be counted are districts in Anchorage that supported Begich, the Anchorage mayor, and rural communities where Begich also did well. Stevens won large majorities in Mat-Su communities that have yet to be counted, so the race remains too close to call.
Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young's strong election-night lead over Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz narrowed somewhat. The lead remains at more than 15,000 votes, however, and appears unlikely to change in Berkowitz's favor.
Several races in the Alaska House of Representatives remain too close to call, along with one in the Alaska Senate.
In most cases it appeared the election night leaders were extending their leads.
In the race for the seat given up by retiring Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, Democrat Joe Paskvan widened his lead to 391 votes.
The closest House race remains the bid for re-election by Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks. Wednesday evening he was leading by 32 voted over Democrat Karl Kassel.
First-term Rep. Bob Buch, D-Anchorage, was leading against Republican challenger Bob Lewis by 124 votes.
Incumbent Rep. Bob Roses, R-Anchorage, was trailing challenger Pete Petersen, a Democrat, by 219 votes.
Fairbanks Republican Jay Ramras looks to be holding onto his seat, however, leading challenger John Brown by 233 votes, up from 173 election night.
In a closely watched race for the open seat vacated by Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, Democrat Chris Tuck has extended his 158-vote election night lead over Republican Ron Jordan to 225 votes.
Fairbanks Rep. Scott Kawasaki, a Democrat, is holding off a tough challenge from Sue Hull and leads that race by 280 votes.
Rep. Andrea, D-Juneau, continues to trail Republican challenger Cathy Muñoz, but has closed the margin slightly to 449 votes by Wednesday evening. Despite the remaining votes, Munoz's lead appears as though it will hold.
If all the races remain as they are now, Democrats will have picked up one seat in each the House and the Senate.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail email@example.com.
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