Republicans scored their eighth Senate pickup of the 2014 cycle early Tuesday, when the Associated Press declared that GOP challenger Dan Sullivan has ousted Democratic Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska.
Sullivan boasted a lead of more than 8,000 votes on election night last week, but with thousands of early and absentee ballots not yet counted, news agencies held off on declaring him the victor. The Republican maintained his lead after subsequent ballot counting, and while several thousand more ballots remain uncounted, the AP projects that Begich can't surmount Sullivan's lead.
In 2008, Begich eked out a 1-point win over longtime GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, who had just been convicted in a federal corruption trial. (The Justice Department later vacated Stevens' conviction on the grounds of gross prosecutorial misconduct.) Given Alaska's Republican leanings and that Begich barely managed to defeat a freshly convicted incumbent, the Democrat was a prime GOP target this year. Republicans dodged a bullet when primary voters nominated Sullivan, a former state attorney general, rather than a more inflammatory candidate like Joe Miller, the 2010 GOP Senate nominee whose disastrous Tea Party campaign propelled Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whom Miller had defeated in the GOP primary, to a surprising write-in victory. While some late-stage polls suggested movement toward Begich, Sullivan led Begich in most public surveys conducted after August. Still, Democrats held out hope that Begich's impressive ground game would help him hang on.
The GOP's win in Alaska comes one week after Republicans picked up Democratic-held Senate seats in West Virginia, North Carolina, South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado, Arkansas and Montana. With Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana facing extremely long odds in her Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Bill Cassidy, the Republicans are virtually certain to hold 54 Senate seats when the 114th Congress convenes in January.