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GOP Senators Start to Sour on Stevens

Correction Appended

The pile-on appears to have begun in earnest for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to abandon his seat, as an increasing stream of his once-proud GOP colleagues on Tuesday started turning their backs on him and calling on the convicted felon to step aside.

Stevens, who is still seeking re-election despite being found guilty Monday on seven counts of failing to report gifts on financial disclosure forms, has steadily seen his support collapse, with fellow incumbent lawmakers Sens. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) calling on him to resign.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) joined Coleman and Smith Tuesday afternoon, saying in a statement that Stevens “has fallen victim to the culture of corruption in Washington.”

“These convictions were not mere paperwork violations,” DeMint said. “Senator Stevens has been convicted of willfully concealing material facts from the Senate Ethics Committee. Senator Stevens’ conviction reaffirms that no man is above the law. Service in the Senate demands the highest ethical standards. Unfortunately, his conviction proved that he has failed to meet those standards and he should resign immediately.”

Similarly, the party’s titular heads — Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — called for Stevens to abandon his seat as the longest-serving GOP Senator.

“This is a sad day for the United States Senate,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) said on Monday. “Ted Stevens served his constituents for over 40 years and I am disappointed to see his career end in disgrace. Sen. Stevens had his day in court and the jury found he violated the public’s trust — as a result he is properly being held accountable. This is a reminder that no one is above the law.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), while not going as far as to call for Stevens to step down, also harshly criticized him.

Of course, not all Senate Republicans have cast Stevens aside.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), his home-state ally, pledged her support for him, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), who is chairwoman of the Republican Policy Committee, on Tuesday broke with McConnell and Ensign and also said she would stick by Stevens.

“This jury’s conviction of Senator Ted Stevens is very serious; however, the justice system has not run its course,” Hutchison said in a statement. “Every American has the right to pursue a case to the end and he should be accorded that right; no more and no less than any other person. Since this case has been tried so close to Election Day, the people in Alaska should have a voice in this matter. I am thankful for Ted Stevens’ service to our country as a highly decorated veteran and as an elected Senator for over forty years.”

Likewise, Stevens’ closest friend in the Senate, Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), also appeared to ally with the Alaska Republican in the wake of the conviction.

“I am deeply saddened by the jury’s decision to find Senator Ted Stevens guilty of the charges,” Inouye said. “However, this may not be the final decision as this matter is subject to appeal. I hope the people of Alaska continue to believe in Ted Stevens, to remember his contributions, and to look upon him as a friend. He will continue to be my friend.”

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who is also under investigation by federal officials, offered a whole-hearted, but odd endorsement of Stevens, equating his pursuit of justice with that of disgraced former President Richard Nixon.

“I can remember Richard Nixon, you know, his years of service, what he’s done, and everybody [was] ridiculing him, and he ended up being the greatest president in the history of our century. … The Senator will be re-elected. He will appeal it. When he does go, he will win it because there’s no way this is a jury of his peers,” Young told the Anchorage Daily News.

Correction: Oct. 28, 2008

The article incorrectly said NRSC Chairman John Ensign called for Stevens’ resignation.

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