Republican Dan Sullivan was picking a transition team an hour after the Associated Press today declared him the winner of the U.S. Senate election in Alaska.
“I am deeply humbled and honored to be chosen by my fellow Alaskans to serve them in the United States Senate. From day one we told our supporters that we would run a campaign that Alaskans could be proud of and that’s what we did. But we couldn’t do it alone and Julie and I are so grateful for the incredible support and encouragement we received from Alaskans in every corner of our state,” Sullivan said in a statement on his Facebook page.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), on the other hand, displayed the resolve of a born-and-bred Alaskan waiting for the spring thaw as he refused to concede the election.
Begich campaign spokesman Max Croes said the first-term senator would not concede until all outstanding ballots had been counted.
“Tens of thousands of votes remain uncounted, and those Alaskans deserve for their voices to be heard,” Croes said in a statement, reported by newsminer.com.
Alaska elections workers, meanwhile, continued to count ballots.
And, oh yes, Alaska is still waiting to find out who its next governor will be.
Sullivan defeated Begich 48.8 percent to 45.4 percent. The gap is 7,911 votes.
However, votes cast at precincts in Alaska are only part of the equation.
Ballots from other locations are still being counted in Alaska from the Nov. 4 general election, a process that will continue for most of the month of November.
“We are anxious for a final count,” said Susanne Fleek-Green, the campaign manager for Begich for Senate.
She also said Begich would only make a statement (concession or otherwise) after ballots arrive from 70 villages that had not reported three days after the election “and when the number of outstanding absentee and questioned ballots is clear.”
As far as former attorney general Sullivan is concerned, though, the election is over and he is ready to move to Washington D.C.
“Now, the real work begins,” his campaign wrote on the Sullivan for Senate Facebook page. “We’re going to get our country back on track and empower Alaskan families and communities to decide their own destiny.”
Sullivan was so confident of victory, it was widely reported in Alaska, that he left for Marine Corps Reserve training a couple of days after the election.
The problem is Alaska.
The Last Frontier, as the nation’s 49th state proudly brands itself, is so big, so diverse, with areas so remote — Sen. Lisa Murkwoski (R-Alaska) recently participated in a First Flush Ceremony, cutting the ribbon on a toilet in a village that finally had indoor plumbing — that absentee and mail-in ballots are still, well, in the mail.
Close to 24,000 absentee and early ballots had yet to be counted as of Nov. 6. The count began Tuesday and Sullivan maintained his advantage.
There are also questioned ballots. These are usually ballots that are cast at the wrong polling location. Those numbers were still coming in three days after the general election. But the Alaska Dispatch News reported there were almost 13,000 of those ballots that had to be counted in the 2010 election.
Begich has been telling his supporters to relax. As far as he is concerned, not only is the fat lady not signing, she isn’t even clearing her throat.
Begich has been here and done this. He trailed his opponent in the 2008 election by 3,000 votes. But as he reminded his supporters on election night, when all the outstanding ballots had been counted six years ago, Begich wound up winning by 4,000 votes.
Begich believes, as you might imagine, the wait is worth it.
“Stories have been trickling in over the last 24 hours. Stories of village elders being lifted onto four wheelers to go vote. Stories of Alaskans traveling up and down river to cast ballots. To all our organizers and volunteers in every corner of Alaska — thank you all so much,” Begich wrote on his campaign’s website last week.
“Right now there are still tens of thousands of ballots yet to be counted. The vote totals probably won’t be known for a while. But we ran this campaign for all Alaskans, and we’re going to make sure that all votes legally cast by Alaskans are counted,” Begich added.
Alaska’s gubernatorial election is also in flux while state officials watch their mailbox.
Independent challenger Bill Walker led Gov. Sean Parnell (R-Alaska) 48 percent to 46.3 percent, according to the latest count released by the Alaska secretary of state. That is a margin of only 4,004 votes.
So, as you might imagine, Parnell is also all about waiting until every vote is counted. His campaign believes there are as many as 30,000 absentee and questioned ballots that have yet to be counted.
The Parnell campaign doesn’t think it is out of the realm of possibility that a little over 10 percent of those votes could go their way.
“We will make sure every Alaskan’s vote gets counted and we remain confident that the lead can switch with the number of ballots remaining,” Parnell said in a statement.
Walker is not nearly as relaxed as Sullivan while the votes are counted. The Democrat said his campaign would send observers for the ballot counting.
Walker maintained in a statement last week that the election was not over, and would not be until every vote is counted.
“But we remain optimistic that we will maintain our lead as absentee votes are counted in regional centers,” he said.
In a sign of that optimism, Walker has already told his campaign advisers to set up a transition team.
Alaska state officials hope to have the election certified by Nov. 28.
The inauguration of Alaska’s governor is scheduled for Dec. 1.
No pressure, right?
There is plenty of pressure to go around in Alaska, even for the winner.
As one of the more than 300 “likes” on Sullivan’s Facebook page following his victory statement, Patrick Rowe warned the Republican Alaska would be watching.
“Now that we voted you in, don’t let it go to your head. You work for us. Listen to us and do what we ask. Otherwise, it’s the boot.”