By BECKY BOHRER
JUNEAU — Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has won reelection, defeating independent Al Gross in a race that attracted outside attention with control of the Senate at stake.
The race had been determined too early to call on Election Day, Nov. 3, due to a large number of outstanding absentee ballots. Election officials began counting more than 150,000 absentee and other ballots on Tuesday.
The result in Alaska means control of the Senate won’t be decided until January Senate runoffs are held in Georgia.
Sullivan campaign manager Matt Shuckerow was muted in his response Wednesday, noting ballots still were being counted in Alaska. But he said the campaign was “very delighted to be in the position that we’re in.”
“We’re feeling very positive. We’re very excited about the support that we’ve received,” Shuckerow said.
The Gross campaign did not immediately indicate plans to concede after The Associated Press called the race for Sullivan on Wednesday.
“With so many Alaskans voices needing to be heard, we’ll continue to monitor the race as results come in and assess tonight,” Gross’ campaign manager, David Keith, said in a statement.
Indiana Sen. Todd Young, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement congratulated Sullivan, calling him a man “who has championed the unique needs of his state in Washington.”
The Republicans in the top-tier races on Alaska’s ballot — President Donald Trump, Sullivan and U.S. Rep. Don Young — held largely similar vote counts, and advantages, when Election Day results and early votes through Oct. 29 were tallied.
The Associated Press called all three races for the Republican incumbents Wednesday, after initial results from absentee and other ballot counts were released late Tuesday. The counting continued Wednesday.
Election Day was the deadline for ballots returned by mail to have been postmarked. Friday is the deadline for the state Division of Elections to receive ballots that were postmarked within the U.S. Nov. 18 is the deadline to receive absentees postmarked outside the U.S., with the certification of results targeted for later this month.
Sullivan had predicted he would win. Gross, who said his campaign encouraged Alaskans to vote absentee, had urged patience with the vote count.
Sullivan during the campaign questioned Gross’ independent label and sought to tie him to Democratic members of Congress that Sullivan cast as out-of-touch with Alaska issues. Gross, who won the Democratic nomination but said he wouldn’t be beholden to the party, called Sullivan a Trump “yes man.”
The largest bloc of registered voters in Alaska identify as independents, though the state has leaned Republican, sending one Democrat to the Senate since 1980: Mark Begich. Begich, who served a term, narrowly lost to Sullivan in 2014, another year when Senate control was at stake.
Financial disclosures through mid-October showed Gross had raised $16.9 million, compared to $9.8 million for Sullivan this election cycle.
Sullivan on election night said a takeaway from reelection wins by colleagues, such as Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa “is a theme that I think’s going to be the theme of our race, which is, all the money in the world can’t buy an election.”
This year saw an unprecedented level of interest in absentee voting in Alaska, prompting Keith last week to declare Sullivan’s lead in early returns could be overtaken. Sullivan’s campaign press secretary, Nate Adams, on Twitter expressed skepticism.
“The only state bigger than Alaska is the state of denial DrAlGrossAK is in,” he posted last Thursday.
Gross and other critics of Sullivan sought to make Sullivan’s ties to Trump an issue. Sullivan said the Trump administration has been a partner with the state and pointed to investments in the military and rural law enforcement and moves to ease or lift restrictions on federal lands for oil and gas drilling and logging.
Sullivan defended changing his tune on advancing an election-year Supreme Court nominee from opposition to President Barack Obama’s pick of Merrick Garland in early 2016 to supporting confirmation of Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett last month.
Sullivan accused Gross of getting rich off a health care system Gross seeks to change. Gross, who in 2017 wrote in support of a single-payer health care system, said articles he wrote on the issue were meant to draw attention to Alaska’s high health care costs and not intended to viewed as the policy he would advance as a senator.
Gross said he worked hard in his practice as an orthopedic surgeon and increasingly got involved in health care advocacy after seeing what he called injustices in the system. He said he supports a public option for individuals and small businesses on the health insurance exchange.