Republican Dan Sullivan wins Alaska Senate race, ousting Mark Begich

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska refuses to concede to Dan Sullivan

One week after the midterm election, former Alaska Atty. Gen. Dan Sullivan won the state's costly, hard-fought U.S. Senate contest, giving Republicans an eight-seat gain nationally with one race still to be decided.

Sullivan was about 8,000 votes ahead of incumbent Democrat Mark Begich on election night, a lead that held steady after about 20,000 absentee and other ballots were counted as of Tuesday night.

The Associated Press declared Sullivan the winner after determining that Begich could not overcome Sullivan's lead, even with thousands of ballots still outstanding and several more days of counting to go.

Begich, a former mayor of Anchorage serving his first Senate term, declined to concede the race, however, until every vote was tabulated. The race for governor, between independent Bill Walker and Republican incumbent Sean Parnell, remains too close to call.

Sullivan, who turns 50 on Thursday, served as attorney general under Gov. Sarah Palin and later as head of the state's natural resources department before stepping down in September 2013 to make his first try for public office.

He benefited from strong opposition to President Obama and his policies, an undertow that helped sink three other Democratic senators despite efforts to distance themselves from the president; at one point, Begich described himself as "a total thorn" in Obama's posterior.

But his ties to his fellow Democrat were pounded home in millions of dollars in advertisements, mostly placed by outside groups flooding Alaska's airwaves.

With more than $40 million in spending by both sides, the contest ranked as the fourth-most expensive Senate race in the country this election season, though with a targeted audience of 500,000 or so voters it easily was the priciest per capita.

Alaska was once seen as crucial to the fight for control of the Senate, but Republican gains elsewhere meant the outcome merely padded the GOP's advantage. The new Senate will be sworn in in January.

The party could gain a ninth seat next month in Louisiana, where Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu faces a steep uphill fight in a Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Bill Cassidy.

By defeating at least four incumbents, Republicans easily surpassed their performance of the last decade, when they managed to unseat just three Democratic senators in total. The results election night — knocking off Democratic senators in North Carolina, Alaska and Colorado — marked the first time since Ronald Reagan's 1980 landslide that the GOP toppled three incumbents in a single election.

mark.barabak@latimes.com

Twitter: @markzbarabak

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