JUNEAU — Republican Dan Sullivan spent Tuesday night checking in on election returns, hanging out with his family and watching the movie “Patton.”
On Wednesday, he was on his way to Washington, D.C., as senator-elect, after defeating Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Begich.
While thousands of absentee and questioned ballots remain to be counted in Alaska, results from Tuesday’s count of about 20,000 ballots indicated that Begich could not overcome Sullivan’s lead, which stood at about 7,900.
Begich refused to concede the race. His campaign manager reiterated what the campaign has been saying since election night last week — that Alaskans deserve to have every vote counted. More ballots will be counted starting Friday.
Begich was not available for an interview Wednesday, said his spokesman, Max Croes.
Sullivan said he was humbled by the support he received and ready to start his work. Organizational meetings are planned for Thursday, which is Sullivan’s 50th birthday.
In an interview during a layover Wednesday, Sullivan said he was interested in serving on the commerce committee, given the importance of fisheries to the state. He also expressed interest in the environment and public works committee, where he said there would be opportunities to address one of the issues he campaigned on — the “overregulation of our economy” — and possibly the armed services committee.
Sullivan is a Marine Corps reservist and served as an assistant secretary of state in President George W. Bush’s administration. He also has served as a state attorney general and natural resources commissioner.
He acknowledged there will be a lot of competition for committee slots. “That’s why it’s important for me to get down there and start working it,” Sullivan said.
As a senator, he said he would pursue policies of less government and more freedom, taking advantage of U.S. energy opportunities and protecting the most vulnerable in society, including women and children and veterans.
During the campaign, Begich touted his rise in seniority since being elected in 2008, a rise aided by retirements, deaths and the ouster of longer-serving members. He serves with Alaska’s senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Begich noted that no state has ever had two members from the same party on that committee at the same time.
Sullivan said he didn’t want to rehash the campaign. But he said clout only goes so far where there is a Senate majority leader and administration uninterested in allowing Alaskans to seize the opportunities in their state. Murkowski herself questioned what Alaskans had gained from having a Democratic senator serving while a Democratic president was in office.
While the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge remains off limits to drilling — despite longstanding support for development from Alaska’s congressional delegation — Begich noted progress toward development offshore in the Arctic and in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
With Republicans regaining control of the Senate during this month’s elections, Murkowski is set to become the new chair of the Senate energy committee and chair of the Interior appropriations subcommittee, panels seen as important for Alaska.
Republicans here, as in other parts of the country, made the election a referendum on Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama, who are unpopular in the state, and at seemingly every turn sought to tie Begich to them.
Jim Lottsfeldt, who was treasurer of a pro-Begich super PAC called Put Alaska First, said he thought Begich ran a good campaign and did quite well considering the anti-Obama wave that swept across the country.
There are far more registered Republicans in Alaska than Democrats, though independents comprise the largest bloc of voters.
Lottsfeldt said if the race was about who would be the best senator, Begich would have won. But he said he knew if it became a referendum on national politics that would be trouble.