Alaska icon Stevens narrowly loses Senate reelection
Democrats move within 2 seats of 60-vote majority
ANCHORAGE - Senator Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, narrowly lost his reelection bid yesterday, marking the downfall of a Washington political power and an 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's 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 Johnson administration while holding seats on some of the most influential committees in Congress.
Stevens likes to encourage comparisons with the Incredible Hulk, but he occupies an outsize place in Alaska history. His 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."
Yesterday's tally of just over 24,000 absentee and other ballots gave Begich 146,286, or 47.56 percent, to 143,912, or 46.76 percent, for Stevens.
A recount is possible.
Begich said the defining issue in the race was the desire for a new direction in Washington, not Stevens's 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's 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 onto 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," Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement.
The climactic count came after a series of tumultuous days for a senator who has been straddling challenges to his power both at home and in his trial in Washington. Notwithstanding all that turmoil, Stevens revealed yesterday that he will not ask President Bush to give him a pardon for his seven felony convictions.
Stevens's future was murky at a time when newly elected members of both the House and Senate were on Capitol Hill for heady receptions, picture-taking sessions, and orientation this week. Stevens, speaking earlier yesterday in Washington, said he had no idea what his life would be like in January, when the 111th Congress convenes.
"I wouldn't wish what I'm going through on anyone, my worst enemy," he lamented to reporters. "I haven't had a night's sleep for almost four months."
Last month just days before the election, Stevens was convicted by a federal jury in Washington of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.
His defeat could allow Republican senators to sidestep the task of determining whether to kick out the longest-serving member of their party in the Senate.
When counting resumed yesterday, 1,022 votes divided the candidates out of about 300,000 ballots cast. Most of those votes came from areas that had favored Begich - the Anchorage vicinity and the southeastern panhandle around Juneau.
It is a testament to Stevens's popularity that he won nearly half the votes, even after his conviction. He routinely brought home the most government dollars per capita in the nation, more than $9 billion in 2006 alone, according to one estimate.
With Stevens gone "it's a big gap in dollars - billions of dollars - that none of the other members of the delegation, Begich, whoever, could fill," said Gerald McBeath, chairman of the political science department at University of Alaska-Fairbanks.