He claims the AFL-CIO and the Alaska Public Employees Association spent more supporting French in the race than what Bell spent on his campaign.
"That's a tough bar, and we came within 59 votes," he said. "I'm proud of that. We ran a positive campaign, they didn't, and I'm proud of that."
Voters mostly wanted to talk about energy and education, French said, from their children's schools to the desire for choices.
"The one idea I kept pushing was statewide voluntary — not mandatory but voluntary — pre-kindergarten," he said.
Some voters, he said, scolded him for his opposition to the Parnell plan, which would cut oil company taxes to stimulate new development. French and other critics want evidence that companies will respond with more than promises.
"I listened very carefully, and yet probably 80 percent of the people I spoke would agree with what became our position, which was let's make sure we tie any tax reduction to more investment, more jobs, more wells, more oil in Alaska," he said.
The 13 Republicans elected to the 20-member Senate mean French will no longer be part of the majority. He expects to remain relevant.
"You don't quite have your hands on the lever of power but you have a seat at the table and a voice in the body and on oil taxes especially, there's not a Republican line and a Democratic line. It's far more fluid than that," he said. "I think people are susceptible to facts and argument and I expect to participate very actively in that debate."