Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich extended his lead over U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens to 1,022 votes Friday after additional ballots were counted by the state Elections Division.
With nearly 300,000 votes counted, Begich now has 138,959 votes to Stevens' 137,937, leading 47.37 percent to 47.02 percent.
Stevens appears to be on the verge of being voted out of the Senate, just weeks after his conviction on seven felony counts for failing to report $250,000 in gifts from a convicted oil executive. He maintains his innocence, and said he'll appeal the conviction. A 40-year incumbent, he is the longest serving Republican ever in the U.S. Senate.
After 12,000 additional ballots were counted Friday, Begich issued a statement saying the news continued to look positive.
"With the gap widening in our favor Friday, I feel even more optimistic that when all of the votes are counted next week, we'll see Alaskans came out to vote for new leadership in Washington, D.C.," he said.
The additional votes counted Friday appeared to lean Democratic in legislative races as well.
One, in Fairbanks' seventh district, is currently the closest in the state. Democrat Karl Kassel is now within a single vote of two-term incumbent Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks. Kelly now leads that race 5,000 to 4,999.
Remaining to be counted are 23,000 ballots, according to Bethany Lesser of the Alaska Democratic Party.
All remaining ballots are expected to be counted Tuesday. The statutory deadline for the election to be certified is Wednesday.
Remaining ballots to be counted are absentee and questioned ballots from Southeast and Anchorage, said Gail Fenumiai, state elections director.
Most of the districts yet to be counted supported Begich on Election Day, indicating it may be difficult for Stevens to reverse Begich's lead.
Among the ballots counted Friday were those counted at the Wasilla regional office, where ballots from Stevens strongholds such as the Mat-Su Borough were counted. Also counted were smaller numbers from North Slope and Western Alaska villages where Begich did well.
Stevens' campaign has not been available for comment since Begich took the lead in the race Wednesday.
The deadline for absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day within the United States has already passed; the deadline for ballots mailed from overseas is Wednesday. Only a few additional ballots have been received in recent days, Fenumiai said.
Any ballots that arrive at the Elections Division after the respective deadlines are not counted.
After the election is officially certified, there will be an automatic recount in any race within half a percentage point. Currently the close Fairbanks legislative race falls into that category.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail email@example.com.
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