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Stevens’ Defeat Ends Long Political Career, Brings Democrats Closer to 60 Seats

As vote counting continued a fortnight after Election Day,
embattled Alaskan political icon Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in
the history of the Senate, trailed Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich by an
insurmountable tally of 3,724 votes with only about 2,500 overseas ballots left
to be counted.

Stevens, whose political career pre-dates Alaskan statehood,
couldn’t survive a conviction on federal corruption charges last month. His
defeat to Begich moves Senate Democrats within two seats
of a 60-vote majority that could prevent any GOP attempt to filibuster legislation.

Stevens’ 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.

“I wouldn’t wish what I’m going through on anyone, my
worst enemy,” he lamented to reporters earlier Tuesday. “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 allows Republican senators to sidestep the task
of determining whether to kick out the longest-serving senator of their party
for his corruption conviction.

Stevens was 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.”

Tuesday’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.

Stevens did not immediately concede the race. He could
request a recount, but he would have to pay for it if the current vote margins
hold, the New York Times reported.

Gaining nearly half the votes after his conviction is a
testament to Stevens’ popularity in the state.

In a statement, Begich said, “I am humbled and honored
to serve Alaska in the United States Senate. It’s been an incredible journey
getting to this point, and I appreciate the support and commitment of the
thousands of Alaskans who have brought us to this day.”

Begich repeatedly refused to make an issue of Stevens’
corruption trial and didn’t even call for him to resign after his conviction.
That unconventional approach proved successful for the 46-year-old mayor, who
ended the four-decade reign of the longest-serving Republican in Senate

Federal charges accusing Stevens of concealing more than
$250,000 in gifts and home improvements from an oil fields services company
executive were referred to by Begich simply as his opponent’s

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 Washington. Notwithstanding all that turmoil, Stevens revealed Tuesday that
he will not ask President George W. Bush to give him a pardon for his seven
felony convictions, the Associated Press reported.

Democrats have now picked up seven Senate seats in the Nov.
4 election to hold 58 seats, counting two independents who align with them.
Races remain undecided in Minnesota and Georgia where two Republicans are
trying to hang onto their seats.

“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,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of
the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement.

Stevens 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.

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,” Gerald McBeath, chair of the political
science department at University of Alaska Fairbanks, told the AP. “There
is no immediate replacement for him.”

The trial in Washington not only left Stevens a felon, it
deprived him of time to campaign in his home state. Stevens refused pleas from
his own party leaders to step down after the verdict, including Sen. John
McCain, the GOP presidential nominee who said the Alaska senator had
“broken his trust with the people.”

Begich will be the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the
Senate in nearly 30 years. He is the son of Nick Begich, Alaska’s third
congressman, who died in a plane crash 1972 while running for re-election.

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