Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, a stalwart of Alaska politics who was convicted of felony charges last month, fell further behind his Democratic rival Friday, and most remaining ballots come from parts of the state that have favored the challenger.
Mark Begich, the two-term mayor of Anchorage, increased his lead from 814 votes to 1,022 as state election workers counted 17,100 ballots. Begich had 47.4 percent of the vote to Stevens' 47.0 percent.
"With the gap widening slightly in our favor today, I feel even more optimistic that when all the ballots are counted next week, we'll see Alaskans came out to vote for new leadership in Washington, D.C.," Begich said in a news release.
The 25,000 remaining votes will be counted Tuesday. They come mostly from Anchorage and the surrounding area, where Begich is leading, and from the state's southeastern panhandle, where he was doing even better.
Stevens, 84, is seeking his seventh term in the Senate, where he has served since 1968. He's renowned for bringing federal funding home to Alaska - as well as for wearing his Incredible Hulk tie when the going gets rough in Congress.
But last month he was convicted by a federal jury in Washington, D.C., of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.
About 5,000 of the votes tallied Friday came from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough north of Anchorage, a conservative area home to Gov. Sarah Palin. Stevens has been leading in that area by a margin of 2-to-1. Also counted were votes from the interior city of Fairbanks and surrounding areas, where Stevens has a slight lead, and the vast Alaska Bush, where Begich is winning easily.
Even David Dittman, a pollster who has worked for Stevens, said his friend's chances were extremely slim. He said many of the votes now being counted were cast before Stevens returned from his trial and began to campaign personally, which helped him in the polls.
"That doesn't change anything for all those votes that were cast earlier," he said.
Absentee ballots went out Oct. 14; Stevens was convicted Oct. 27.
Statewide, about 8,500 of the remaining votes are questioned ballots (known elsewhere as provisional ballots). They are most commonly cast by people who are voting away from their home polling places.
Ivan Moore, an Anchorage pollster who has worked for Democrats, said those voters tend to be younger, single and more likely to vote Democratic.
"I just don't see a significant bloc of votes that's remaining for Ted to get him back into this," Moore said.
Stevens' campaign didn't return calls seeking comment.
For results visit the Alaska Division of Elections Web site.
By Associated Press Writer Gene Johnson