AP declares Sullivan the winner in Alaska Senate race

Early Wednesday morning, the Associated Press declared GOP Senate candidate in Alaska Dan Sullivan the winner over incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Begich.  On Tuesday, about 20,000 absentee ballots from the election began to be counted, and the AP determined that even though results from Alaska's far north had not arrived yet, Sullivan's lead was too great for Begich to overcome.

Begich has not conceded.

"Sen. Begich believes every vote deserves to be counted in this election. There are tens of thousands of outstanding votes and Sen. Begich has heard from rural Alaskans that their votes deserve to be counted and their voices deserve to be heard. He will honor those requests," campaign manager Susanne Fleek-Green said in an email to The Associated Press.

In another close race, incumbent candidate Bill Walker led incumbent Republican Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell by about 4,000 votes with more to be counted starting Friday. Although he hasn't been declared the winner, Walker planned to announce a transition team Wednesday.

The Alaska Senate seat was initially considered key to the Republicans' hopes of taking control of the U.S. Senate, but that goal was accomplished early on Election Night.

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 Obama and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who are unpopular in Alaska.

Begich said Sullivan offered little in the way of proposals for what he would do as senator. Begich touted his clout, including a position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and 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.

On several occasions, Sullivan's wife, Julie Fate Sullivan, an Alaska Native and frequent companion on the campaign trail, appeared in ads defending her husband's ties to the state and his positions on women's issues.

The absentee ballots were expected to break slightly for Begich, but apparently not enough to rescue him.  If Cassidy can win the LA runoff on December 6, it will set up an interesting situation in the Senate.

There are six red state Democratic senators who, on many issues, may bolt their party and vote with Republicans.  If Republicans can get to 54 seats, on some issues they will have a filibuster-proof majority and can tell Harry Reid to go hang himself if he tries to obstruct.

Sullivan should be a strong voice on energy issues, given his experience as natural resources commissioner in Alaska.  He also served as Alaska's attorney general and was an assistant secretary of state under President Bush.