Conviction May End Stevens' Career

Conviction May End Stevens' Career

By Kyle Trygstad - October 28, 2008

Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens' felony conviction in federal court yesterday spells almost certain doom for his re-election chances this year. After four years of investigations and prosecutions of corrupt Alaska politicians and more than a year after the FBI raided the senator's Alaska home, Stevens was found guilty on seven counts of lying on his Senate financial disclosure forms of roughly $250,000 worth of home improvements he received for free.

Following the reading of the verdict in the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., the Alaska Democratic Party quickly called for Stevens' resignation. On top of pressure to resign and the possibility he could be expelled from the Senate even if he is re-elected, the 84-year-old is facing a potential prison sentence -- up to five years for each of the seven counts. Sentencing is set to take place in early January 2009.

According to the Senate Historical Office, Stevens becomes just the fifth sitting senator to be convicted of a crime. Of the previous four Senators, three resigned and one died before the Senate could expel them. Stevens will likely be defeated for re-election before the Senate is able to act.

Challenging Stevens for his Senate seat is Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, an Alaska native and son of a former congressman. The Begich name is known around the state due to the tragedy surrounding the death of his father, Rep. Nick Begich, whose plane disappeared in the Gulf of Alaska while he was campaigning for re-election in 1972. Had Stevens not run into Senate ethics trouble, Begich likely would not have been considered much of a threat to the six-term senator. Alaska hasn't sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1974, when Mike Gravel was elected to a second term.

In a statement released Monday evening, Stevens declared his innocence and indicated he would fight the conviction through the appeals process. He also maintained he would not drop out of the race. "I remain a candidate for the United States Senate," he stated. "I will come home on Wednesday and ask for your vote."

Should the verdict not be reversed on appeal, Stevens' conviction will almost certainly end the career of one of Alaska's longest serving and most influential elected officials. Since being appointed to the post in 1968, Stevens has brought home millions of dollars in federal money, which, as the Almanac of American Politics notes, Alaskans eventually began calling "Stevens money." His name adorns the international airport in Anchorage, as well as numerous other structures and roads around the state.

Even prior to today's news, the corruption trial had badly damaged Stevens' re-election bid. Begich has maintained a small lead over Stevens in almost every general election poll taken since late August when Stevens won a surprisingly large 64 percent of the vote in the seven-candidate primary. Had he been cleared of all charges, though, many believed there was a chance Stevens would have prevailed on November 4.

A Begich victory would put Democrats one seat closer to their goal of a 60-seat filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Democrats are also favored in Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado and New Hampshire, and like their chances in three more states that are now considered tossups: North Carolina, Oregon and Minnesota. Republicans are favored to win re-election in Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi, though Democrats are mounting strong challenges in each.

Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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