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Alaska counts ballots to decide US Senate race
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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska election officials began Tuesday to count thousands of outstanding ballots that will decide the U.S. Senate race.

Republican challenger Dan Sullivan led first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Begich by about 8,100 votes on election night last week. About 50,000 absentee, questioned and early-voted ballots remained to be counted, starting Tuesday.

Observers affiliated with candidates or political parties and news reporters watched as election workers opened ballots, reviewed those in which voters’ qualifications were questioned and tallied votes in election centers in Juneau and other parts of the state.

Begich is no stranger to come-from-behind wins. In 2008, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens led Begich by about 3,000 votes in a race Begich won about two weeks later by less than 4,000 votes.

The dynamics of that race, though, were different, with the election coming days after a jury found Stevens guilty in a federal corruption trial. The case was later tossed by a judge, prompting many Republicans to believe Begich’s win was a fluke.

And Republicans here, as in other states, made this race a referendum on President Barack Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. Obama lost in Alaska by wide margins in 2008 and 2012.

 Republicans also argued that Sullivan’s lead was insurmountable. Begich, meanwhile, has said every vote should be counted.

Begich has returned to Washington, D.C., as Congress gears up to finish out this session.

While the race had been closely watched nationally because of its potential to help decide control of the Senate, that drama has been decided. The GOP has already picked up the seats it needs.

Also Tuesday, Alaskans hoped to get greater clarity on the governor’s race. Incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell trails independent candidate Bill Walker by about 3,000 votes.