- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska

Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, narrowly lost his re-election bid Tuesday, marking the downfall of a Washington political power and Alaska icon who couldn’t survive a conviction on federal corruption charges. His defeat by Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich moves Senate Democrats within two seats of a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.

Stevens’ ouster on his 85th birthday marks an abrupt realignment in Alaska politics and will alter the power structure in the Senate, where he has served since the days of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration while holding seats on some of the most influential committees in Congress.

The octogenarian’s involvement in politics dates to the days before Alaska statehood, and he is esteemed for his ability to secure billions of dollars in federal aid for transportation and military projects. The Anchorage airport bears his name; in Alaska, it’s simply “Uncle Ted.”

Tuesday’s tally of just over 24,000 absentee and other ballots gave Mr. Begich 146,286, or 47.56 percent, to 143,912, or 46.76 percent, for Stevens. A conservative third-party candidate, Bob Bird, running under the banner of the Alaska Independence Party, may have been the spoiler in the race, garnering more than 12,000 votes.

A recount is possible.

Mr. Begich said the defining issue in the race was the desire for a new direction in Washington, not Stevens’ legal problems.

Alaska voters “wanted to see change,” he told reporters in Anchorage. “Alaska has been in the midst of a generational shift - you could see it.”

Stevens’ campaign didn’t immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Stevens’ loss was another slap for Republicans in a year that has seen the party lose control of the White House, as well as seats in the House and Senate. It also moves Democrats one step closer to the 60 votes needed to overcome filibusters in the Senate. Democrats now hold 58 seats, when two independents who align with Democrats are included, with undecided races in Minnesota and Georgia, where two Republicans are trying to hang on to their seats.

Democrats have now picked up seven Senate seats in the Nov. 4 election.

“With seven seats and counting now added to the Democratic ranks in the Senate, we have an even stronger majority that will bring real change to America,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Mr. Begich will be the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the Senate in nearly 30 years. He is the son of Nick Begich, Alaska’s third congressman, who died in a plane crash 1972 while running for re-election.

Stevens’ attorney demanded a speedy trial, hoping for exoneration in time to fight the first serious threat to his seat in decades. But the trial in Washington not only left Stevens a felon, it deprived him of time to campaign in his home state.

Stevens refused pleas from his own party leaders to step down after the verdict, including Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee who said the Alaska senator had “broken his trust with the people.”

Stevens’ fall came shortly after another Alaskan, Gov. Sarah Palin, emerged as a national figure on the Republican presidential ticket. She had called for Stevens to step aside at one point, but appeared to back away from that the day after the election when returns showed Stevens with an edge.

“The people of Alaska just spoke,” she said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide