Republican presidential nominee John McCain on Tuesday urged Senate colleague Ted Stevens to resign from office after his conviction Monday in federal court for lying on ethics reports - the same day the embattled Alaskan picked up a re-election endorsement from a constituency group.
Mr. McCain, in a statement issued by his campaign, said "that it is clear Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down."
"I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all," Mr. McCain said. The Arizona lawmaker added that the case is "a sign of the corruption and insider dealing that has become so pervasive in our nation's capital."
But the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission Tuesday urged Alaskans to vote for another six-year Senate term for Stevens.
"Senator Stevens has protected Alaska natives' rights to hunt the bowhead [whales] for over 30 years," commission Chairman Harry Brower said. "He has gone to the [International Whaling Commission] to defend our quotas and provided federal funding. We need Senator Stevens back in the Senate to protect our subsistence right into the future."
Tom McInerney, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and former head of the Alaska Command, also endorsed Stevens on Tuesday.
Stevens, who has said he is innocent and that he won't step down from office or withdraw from the race, said he was "honored and humbled to continue to have the support of so many Alaskans."
"By working together, we can make our state even better for future generations of Alaskans," he said.
Mr. McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, at first stopped short of asking Stevens to quit, saying Monday she was confident the state's senior senator "from this point on, will do the right thing for the state of Alaska."
But after Mr. McCain's call for Stevens to quit the following day, Mrs. Palin said that resignation was the right thing.
"After being found guilty on seven felony counts, I had hoped Senator Stevens would take the opportunity to do the statesmanlike thing and erase the cloud that is covering his Senate seat. He has not done so," Mrs. Palin said in statement issued by the campaign. "Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service, but the time has come for him to step aside."
Mrs. Palin added that Stevens, who has served in the Senate since December 1968, should resign even if he wins re-election Tuesday. Although there have been no polls taken since the conviction, the most recent ones show the 84-year-old incumbent trailing his Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, by a statistically insignificant margin.
Despite being convicted, Stevens is not required to drop out of the race or resign from the Senate. And if he wins re-election for an eighth term Nov. 4, he can continue to hold his seat because there is no rule barring felons from serving in Congress.
The Senate could vote to expel him on a two-thirds vote. And with Congress' voter-approval ratings at record lows, public pressure to remove Stevens likely might be too intense for senators to ignore.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said that Stevens "now must face the consequences" of his conviction and that he "will be held accountable so the public trust can be restored."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, called Stevens' conviction a "personal tragedy for our colleague" but that he "must now respect the outcome of the judicial process and the dignity of the United States Senate."