MEDIA
12/15/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Mark Begich Discusses AK Race With Maddow: 'Cautiously Optimistic'

Mark Begich came on The Rachel Maddow Show last night ("It's an honor to be here," he said, TOTALLY crushing!) to discuss the state of the Alaska vote, as thousands of ballots are slowly piling up against Ted Stevens. Asked to gauge the likelihood of him prevailing, Begich told Maddow, "The line we have been using is we're cautiously optimistic." Whereas the line Senator Ted Stevens has been using is, "I have no idea where that gigantic statue of a fish on my front porch came from!" Begich said that his then-current lead of 824 votes constituted a "super landslide" in Alaska politics, but not an "avalanche," because that would be tacky.

MADDOW: Here is Mark Begich. Thank you for coming on the show tonight.

BEGICH: Thank you very much.

MADDOW: How confident are you that your lead will hold and how confident are you in the counting process at this point?

BEGICH: The line we have been using is we're cautiously optimistic. We like where we're at today. As I was walking to the studio tonight, one small area of Alaska came in, 69 votes came in and we gained ten more. We're 824 ahead today. In Alaska politics, it's a super landslide. In 2003, I won with a landslide of 18 votes. I'm used to this. It will be a close race. We still have counts on Friday then again on Tuesday to finish it off. Almost 35,000 more votes to be counted. We're cautious, optimistic, but feel we are moving in the right direction.

MADDOW: Is it purely a topographical and geographical thing that it takes that long to count?

BEGICH: In close races, we have a third of the vote that is came in from early votes, absentees and question ballots. This is one of the largest early vote numbers we have seen - almost a third of the voting population. Because of that, I think the system was overburdened right away with that kind of number. The election workers are working double time. We have great faith in our system up there. It's a paper trail as well as electronic. We feel confident. There are votes that do come in from rural Alaska. If they come in by mail and the planes are delayed because of weather, it can take awhile. It's a normal process. It's a little bigger, about a third of the vote coming in from early votes, absentee, that's a big number for us. We worked double time on it. We pushed getting people to vote early. I even voted two weeks early. My vote wasn't counted until yesterday. So, I was still out.

MADDOW: Do you expect there will be a recount in this race regardless of the outcome?

BEGICH: I think the number, the threshold based on what's left to come in, if it's 1500 or 1600 votes between myself and Senator Stevens, I'm hoping in my direction, there will not be an automatic recount. If it's less than .5%, it's a recount. It's a difficult thing to change votes in a recount in Alaska. In the old days, way back when there wasn't this system we have today, it was easier. There were vote that is had to be retallied. In this situation, it's going to be difficult. If we're over 1500 votes, it's hard to change the numbers.

MADDOW: Is the situation one that's familiar to national observers, in the sense that there will be lawyers landing, trying to monitor, you and your campaign team hovering, as well as Stevens and his team hovering. Is everybody on site and in touch involved in a hands on way with this?

BEGICH: The day after the election, we dispatched folks out to four regions. We dispatched them out to Nome, Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage because that's where the vote counts occur. They are sent in to the central office, then tallied up. We dispatched people right away. We wanted to make sure as they were verifying the question ballots as well as the absentees, they met all the criteria and nothing was left out. We didn't want to take anything for granted. But once you've done that process, the recount is a much more formal process of just reentering and re-examining small amounts of ballots. It's a tight system after this vote count that occurs.

MADDOW: Mr. Mayor, I understand you met with President-elect Obama before. Has he offered any help, any suggestions any advice to you at this point about this?

BEGICH: Not about this situation. I will tell you, it was several months ago during the campaign, I got a chance to have a few words with him in the Mayors conference. I sit on the advisory board. I had a chance to talk about Alaska issues and the gas line and how important it was for Alaska and the country as well as another item called the NPRA, it's a technical item it's an oil lease sale up in Alaska. Both of these supported by environmental communities. Asked him to put them in the energy plan, which he did. I was pleased about that. In this situation, we had the Vice President-elect, Biden called and check in with the campaign to see how we were doing as well as many other Senators.

MADDOW: I can tell you voter protection activists and folks scarred by Florida are on a hair trigger at this point. So, your comforting words will get people to relax for another evening. Thank you, sir.

BEGICH: Thank you, it's an honor to be here.