It might be the end of an era for Alaska politics and for the Senate.
The conviction Monday of seven- term Sen. Ted Stevens (R) not only likely marks the end of the Alaskans legendary political career, but also means Senate Democrats could be one seat closer to achieving a filibuster-proof majority.
Stevens was in a dead heat with his opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D), in recent polls leading up to Mondays conviction. Alaska political insiders earlier speculated that even if he was found guilty on a couple of charges, he could still win re- election and appeal the verdict.
Now that Stevens has been convicted on all seven counts, the same insiders say there is almost no way the Senates longest- serving Republican can win next Tuesday.
In a statement from his campaign, Stevens said he was disappointed with the verdict but proclaimed his innocence and asked for support from Alaska voters and his Senate colleagues.
I am innocent, Stevens said. This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial. 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.
Anchorage-based pollster Ivan Moore, whose survey had Stevens trailing Begich by 1 point last week, gave the Senator no chance of winning re-election.
If I had to guess, I would say hes going to come out huffing and puffing and saying hes going to appeal, hes going to fight this and say the jury was wrong … and try to rally as much as he can his base behind him, Moore said.
Begich reacted to Stevens conviction with a statement that made no mention of the trial.
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, he said.
Alaska Democratic Party Chairwoman Patti Higgins was not so coy, instead calling on Stevens to resign immediately.
If Stevens won re-election and then resigned, the seat would be filled by an appointment from Gov. Sarah Palin (R).
In a statement, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) called Monday a sad day for the Senate. Ensign had publicly expressed a cautious optimism for Stevens last week, saying Stevens re-election depended on his winning the case and even promised resources for his campaign if he were acquitted.
Ted Stevens served his constituents for over 40 years, and I am disappointed to see his career end in disgrace, Ensign said. Sen. Stevens had his day in court, and the jury found he violated the publics trust as a result he is properly being held accountable. This is a reminder that no one is above the law.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee declined to comment on the matter. In an e-mail last week, DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller urged Senate Democratic campaigns to capitalize on the situation by tying a guilty verdict to their Republican opponents. Miller urged candidates to highlight a possible presidential pardon.
This is a chance to not just go after your opponent, but bring Bush into the equation as well, Miller wrote on Thursday.
In Kentucky, the Stevens conviction quickly played into a close race there with Democrat Bruce Lunsford, who is running against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). Lunsford was quick to connect the two veteran Republicans.
In a statement, Lunsford campaign spokesman Cary Stemle quoted a McConnell floor statement from 2007 in which the Senator said, Wed hardly know what to do without Stevens.
McConnell said nothing about Ted Stevens indictment and refused to return $13,500 in contributions he received from Stevens, Stemle said. The conviction of Stevens is yet another example of the culture of corruption in Washington that Mitch McConnell proudly protects. This time, it is McConnells mentor who is caught red-handed.