- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, was expected to be in the tightest re-election battle of his life even before his Monday conviction in federal court for concealing gifts from an oil-service company.

But if voters don’t boot Mr. Stevens from office next Tuesday, his own Senate colleagues just might.

Mr. Stevens, who has served in the Senate since December 1968, is trailing his Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, by single digits in recent polls.

Mr. Begich had only tepid criticism for his opponent Monday.

“This past year has been a difficult time for Alaskans, but our people are strong and resilient, and I believe that we will be able to move forward together to address the critical challenges that face Alaska,” Mr. Begich said in a statement.

But the Alaska Democratic Party immediately after Mr. Stevens’ conviction called for the senator to resign.

“He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did it anyway and lied to Alaskans about it,” said Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party. “Alaskans deserve better from their public officials. It’s time for us to elect an ethical and honest senator who will move this state forward.”

Mr. Stevens on Monday said he was innocent and that he wouldn’t step down from office or withdraw from the election.

“This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial,” Mr. Stevens said. “I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights. I remain a candidate for the United States Senate. I will come home on Wednesday and ask for your vote.”

Despite being convicted, the 84-year-old lawmaker 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 Mr. Stevens likely would be too intense for senators to ignore.

“For the Senate to let, in this case, a convicted felon continue to serve, it becomes a little bit problematic and a little bit tricky,” Norm Ornstein, a congressional specialist with the American Enterprise Institute. “He’s not going to stay in office unless he gets re-elected, and there is quickly a miraculously reversal” in appeals court.

Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he was “disappointed to see [Mr. Stevens’] career end in disgrace,” although he stopped short of calling for his resignation.

“Senator Stevens had his day in court and the jury found he violated the public’s trust - as a result he is properly being held accountable,” Mr. Ensign said. “This is a reminder that no one is above the law.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, didn’t not respond for comment in time for this article.

If Mr. Stevens is re-elected, it may give the Senate pause for a quick ouster of their colleague.

But Mr. Ornstein said the Stevens conviction “just isn’t about the voters in Alaska.”

“It’s about a misuse of your official authority as senator and you’ve been convicted by a jury of all counts,” he said. “You pretty much can’t let somebody like that just say in the Senate until he’s incarcerated.” Mr. Stevens’ conviction isn’t the only headache for Senate Republicans, as at least 10 other Republican senators are locked in tight re-election races with Democratic challengers - putting Democrats within reach of a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority.

The Democrats presently hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, with two independents voting with them to keep them in control of the chamber.



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