Highs, lows for campaigns as votes are tallied in Alaska election

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan's lead over Democratic Sen. Mark Begich shrank slightly, and Gov. Sean Parnell fell a bit further behind challenger Bill Walker in his bid for a second full term, as Alaska election officials continued counting votes Tuesday evening.

The effort -- held at five regional Division of Elections offices around the state -- was Round 2 of a process that began immediately after polls closed last Tuesday in the Nov. 4 general election. Last week, more than 220,000 votes were counted in those prominent statewide races.

More than 17,000 additional votes were counted Tuesday.

An initial count during the day showed gains for Parnell and Sullivan; a later update reversed those fortunes, with Walker and Begich making up the lost votes. That held true for the night's final tally.

The final update showed Dan Sullivan with 119,579 votes, and Begich with 111,668 votes, meaning Sullivan's lead shrank very slightly, to 7,991 votes.

After election night, Sullivan led Begich by 8,149 votes. Begich is hoping for a come-from-behind victory similar to his cliffhanger win over Republican Ted Stevens in 2008, when Begich dug out of an initial 3,000-vote hole to ultimately win by 4,000 votes.

In the governor's race after Tuesday's update, Walker had 117,130 total votes to Parnell's 113,126, giving Walker a 4,004-vote or 1.6 percent edge.

That was slightly higher than the count on election night, when Walker had a 1.4 percent lead -- a difference of 3,165 votes -- over Parnell.

"We have to make up some ground and it will be have to be somewhat substantial," said Parnell's campaign manager Tom Wright, before adding, "...there's a lot of ballots left. It looks like it's been back and forth today."

Absentee votes typically skew Republican, Wright said, but it's difficult to judge what will happen as counting continues because it's unknown how many Republican voters cast a ballot in favor of Walker.

Walker, who had been running as an independent, changed his Republican registration to "undeclared" when his running mate, Democrat Byron Mallott, abandoned his own campaign for governor and signed on to the Walker ticket as lieutenant governor in September.

"We continue to be encouraged by the continuing trend of maintaining our lead," Walker said by text Tuesday evening.

Walker campaign spokesperson Lindsay Hobson echoed that sentiment and added the campaign was "hopeful the trend continues for the remaining ballots.

"Our observers have reported that it appears we've either maintained or improved in the districts counted so far today."

In a press statement issued late Tuesday, Walker noted that thousands of votes remain uncounted, but said he and Mallott needed to create a transition team to be prepared for a Dec. 1 swearing-in.

"Today we began the process of contacting Alaskans across the state and asking them to join our transition team," Walker said. "The team we assemble will represent diverse backgrounds and experiences as we chart our path forward for the next four years."

The effort will help ensure a smooth transition into office while helping identify and discuss policy goals and priorities for a Walker-Mallott administration, the statement said. Co-chairs of the transition team will be announced Wednesday, along with topics to be covered.

More than 30,000 additional votes remain to be counted after Tuesday's tally is completed. Also, there is still time for other mailed ballots to arrive. Ballots postmarked in the U.S. have through Friday to arrive, the same day another round of counting is scheduled to take place. Those postmarked outside the U.S. have until Nov. 19 to arrive.

The uncertainty in tight races could drag on for some time, but the division hopes to certify the election Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving.