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Begich takes charge of race

Republican senator Stevens faces tough odds, tallies show

Posted: Friday, November 14, 2008

Sen. Ted Stevens' hold on the U.S. Senate seat he's held for 40 years is looking increasingly shaky in the face of more votes for Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

Begich now holds an 814-vote lead he took after nearly 60,000 votes were counted Wednesday. Thursday, the Elections Division provided additional detail on where the more than 40,000 votes yet to be counted come from.

With many arriving from Democratic strongholds that favored Begich on Election Day, the challenger looks to be in a strong position to unseat Stevens, the longest serving Republican ever in the U.S. Senate.

"Given where we expect the remaining votes are located, this looks very good for Begich," said polling analyst Nate Silver on the Web site Fivethirtyeight.com, a national polling site that has been looking at Alaska.

The district with the most absentee votes left to be counted, 2,116, is Sitka, which Begich won 54 percent to 41 percent.

"The remaining full districts ... those are good districts for us," Begich said Thursday.

Among the districts that have votes not yet counted are many others likely to support Begich, including rural Southeast, Western Alaska and other communities that supported Begich. All the remaining districts to be counted, in fact, favored Begich on Election Day. Other individual precincts that favored Stevens are yet to be fully counted, however.

Republican Stevens led Democrat Begich on election night by more than 3,000 votes, leading observers to believe Republicans would hang on to a crucial Senate seat that could prevent Democrats from reaching a powerful 60-vote majority.

Hidden in the results, though, were indications that Begich would do better.

First, early votes counted on Election Day strongly favored Begich, and thousands more early votes remained to be counted.

One-third of Alaskans this year didn't cast a regular vote at the polls, but instead voted early, absentee, or cast a questioned ballot.

Most of the late-counted votes were absentees, and the Stevens and Begich campaigns disagreed on who they'd favor. Stevens' campaign manager Mike Tibbles said he thought traditionally Republican absentee voters would favor Stevens, but the Alaska Democratic Party's Bethany Lesser pointed out that Begich had run an aggressive campaign to encourage absentee voting.

More than a week after the election, nearly 60,000 additional ballots were counted Wednesday. By midday they'd erased Stevens' lead and given Begich a three-vote lead.

By Wednesday evening Begich was holding an 814-vote lead, despite many of the districts counted having favored Stevens on election day.

The election surprised pollsters, especially given Stevens' conviction on seven felony charges just before election day, but Begich said he expects close and surprising elections in Alaska. He won the post of mayor by 18 votes in 2003.

"I've been through this before," Begich said.

The Stevens campaign was not available after the results were posted Thursday.

The votes counted Wednesday, combined with the remaining votes to be counted, show that Rep. Don Young's wide lead over challenger Ethan Berkowitz will definitely hold up, and the long-serving congressman will return to Washington, D.C., for another term.

The closest election in the state remains a state House of Representatives race in which Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, holds a 32-voted lead over Democratic challenger Karl Kassel with 680 absentee and 96 questioned ballots to be counted.

While enough votes are there to swing the race, Kelly has won solid majorities in the absentee and questioned ballots counted so far.

If the leaders hold in all legislative races, Republicans will hold a 22 to 18 majority in the House, enough to install Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, as speaker.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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