Alaska's race for U.S. Senate is still too close to call, although Sen. Ted Stevens is creeping farther ahead of Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich in his bid for a seventh term. With 72 percent of the vote counted Tuesday night, Stevens has captured 48.42 percent of the vote to Begich's 46.06.
But the race for Alaska's lone congressional seat appears over. Rep. Don Young appears headed toward a 19th term with a comfortable lead over his Democratic opponent, former state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz.
Young owns 51.49 percent of the votes. Berkowitz has 43.97 and Alaska Independent candidate Don Wright has 4.29. Berkowitz hasn't given up, though. When asked by a television reporter if he was ready to concede, Berkowitz replied "Hell no!"
A jubilant Young, wearing an elephant print tie and with his wife, Lu, at his side, showed up at Election Central at Anchorage's Egan Center around 11 p.m. "Pollsters were wrong and they've always been wrong," he said. "They don't understand Alaska."
Stevens and Begich both said they expect the race to remain close, perhaps not being decided until absentee votes are counted. Stevens, who spent most of the evening with supporters at the Snow Goose Restaurant and Brewery, said he was prepared for the outcome to remain in doubt beyond Tuesday. He was leaving around 11:15.
Stevens leads Begich by less than 5,000 votes. About 40,000 absentee ballots won't be counted until the coming days, and about 9,000 of 23,000 early ballots cast haven't been counted yet either.
With Alaskans choosing John McCain over Barack Obama by almost a 2-to-1 margin in the presidential race, Alaska's Republican Party could pull off an improbable hat trick in the federal races on the Alaska ballot.
Victories by Stevens and Young would defy pre-election polls, which showed Begich leading Stevens, 84, who last week was convicted of failing to report gifts on federal disclosure forms. The polls showed Berkowitz leading Young as well.
Anchorage pollster and consultant Dave Dittman, who generally works for Republicans, said he was as surprised as anyone by the results. He issued his own poll earlier Tuesday showing both Stevens and Young trailing their opponents.
Dittman speculated that Gov. Sarah Palin's presence on the presidential ticket as McCain's running mate may have pulled more Republicans to the polls.
"It's a huge Republican turnout," Dittman said. "I don't know if it's the Palin effect. It's just a huge, huge Republican turnout and it's all the way down the ticket."
Stevens looked relaxed and upbeat as he worked the crowd at the Snow Goose. Shortly before 9 p.m., before any results had been reported, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, took the stage.
"Alaskans stand by those who serve us honorably and well," she said.
Murkowski campaigned vigorously for Stevens in the days since a Washington, D.C., jury convicted him on seven felony counts of failing to report gifts on federal disclosure forms, returning the favor Stevens did her four years ago when she faced a tough re-election fight against former Gov. Tony Knowles.
"She's just one helluva partner," Stevens told the crowd.