Alaska Sen. Stevens concedes in re-election race
By Michael R. Blood
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens conceded defeat Wednesday in a re-election bid shadowed by his federal felony conviction, a bitter end to a four-decade career in which he held a commanding place in state politics and on some of the most influential congressional committees in Washington.
In an eight-sentence statement, the longest serving Republican in Senate history said not enough ballots remain uncounted for him to catch Democrat Mark Begich, who holds a 3,724-vote lead out of about 315,000 ballots cast.
Stevens never directly mentioned his Washington trial on charges that he failed to properly disclose a sauna and other gifts from an oil services company, but thanked "the thousands of Alaskans who stood by us."
"I am proud of the campaign we ran and regret that the outcome was not what we had hoped for," Stevens said. "I am deeply grateful to Alaskans for allowing me to serve them for 40 years in the U.S. Senate. It has been the greatest honor of my life."
The votes that gave Begich a winning margin were tallied on Tuesday, Stevens’ 85th birthday.
The senator’s statement was released just minutes after Begich, 46, the two-term Anchorage mayor, met with reporters and said he had not heard from Stevens. Begich said he had received congratulations from other leading Republicans, including Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
A smiling Begich described his election as a fundamental shift in the Alaska political landscape long dominated by Republicans. But he also made clear he was not a conventional Washington Democrat, citing his support for gun rights and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the state’s northern reaches.
"Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a different Democrat — I’m from Alaska," he said. Along with firearm rights and drilling, "Alaskans are very libertarian in issues where the government shouldn’t interfere in their personal lives."
He said he was "definitely different than a New York Democrat."
Stevens’ loss also moved Senate Democrats within two seats of a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority and gives President-elect Barack Obama a stronger hand when he assumes office on Jan. 20. Democrats now hold 58 Senate seats, with two independents who align with Democrats. Senate races in Minnesota and Georgia remain unresolved.
Stevens’ pursuit of a seventh term was damaged by his conviction in federal court — just days before the election — for lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.
He was trying to become the first convicted felon to win election to the Senate. Still, he said he will not ask President George W. Bush to give him a pardon for his seven felony convictions.
Tuesday’s tally of just over 24,000 absentee and other ballots gave Begich 150,728, or 47.76 percent, to 147,004, or 46.58 percent, for Stevens. There are about 2,500 overseas ballots yet to be counted.
It is a testament to Stevens’ popularity — he was once named "Alaskan of the Century" — that he won nearly half the votes, even after his conviction. He routinely brought home the highest number of government dollars per capita in the nation — more than $9 billion in 2006 alone, according to one estimate.