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Alaska’s GOP Houdinis May Escape

Despite aggressive efforts to sweep the West, Democrats came up short in several key races, as many GOP incumbents had better showings than expected on Election Day.

This is particularly true for Alaska’s “Senator of the Millennium,” Ted Stevens (R), who just last week was convicted on seven counts in a federal court for filing false financial statements. Stevens appears to have eked out a surprising win against his Democratic challenger and will return — temporarily, at least — to his employer of more than 40 years.

Stevens’ last-minute pitch, in an election-night TV ad touting his longevity in the Senate and the federal dollars that he brought back to the Last Frontier, seems to have worked. He received 48 percent of the vote compared with 46 percent for Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D). Stevens aired the unusually long two-minute ad on statewide television.

However, Stevens’ fate in the Senate hangs in the balance as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would not allow the longest-serving Republican to work again in the Senate because of his conviction. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), along with other members of the Republican leadership, have asked Stevens to step down after his conviction.

Perhaps as a testament that there is a different air up there, embattled Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) also won Tuesday, hanging on to the seat that he has held since 1973. The Democratic wave just couldn’t touch Young, as the 75-year-old Republican was re-elected over former Democratic state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz with 51 percent of the vote.

The quest for the magical 60 seats in the Senate got even harder to reach for Democrats as Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) was, at press time Wednesday, leading state Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) for one of the handful of seats that Senate Democrats aggressively went after this election cycle. Smith and Merkley were long-entrenched in a fierce battle, and both had 47 percent support Wednesday, with the GOP incumbent narrowly topping his opponent in raw votes.

In an unusual move, Smith tried to tie himself to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) during the campaign season, acknowledging the popularity that the now-president-elect had with voters in the Beaver State. Obama, in turn, appeared in a separate television advertisement endorsing Merkley for the seat.

In Oregon’s open 5th-district seat, which Republicans had once dreamed of flipping, state Sen. Kurt Schrader (D) easily beat businessman Mike Erickson (R).

In Nevada’s 3rd district, Rep. Jon Porter (R) was ousted by Democratic state Sen. Dina Titus. In the rapidly changing suburban Las Vegas district, Titus won 48 percent compared with 42 percent for Porter, who is nevertheless still mentioned as a possible 2010 GOP challenger to Reid.

“What happened in Nevada last night was incredible,” Reid told reporters in a Wednesday afternoon conference call.

Republicans in California came out of their races unharmed by the Democratic wave that ousted several others, though there were several close calls. In the 3rd district, Rep. Dan Lungren (R) bested his Democratic challenger, physician Bill Durston, with just 49 percent of the vote.

In the Sacramento-area 4th district, state Sen. Tom McClintock (R) was in a too-close-to-call battle for the open seat being vacated by GOP Rep. John Doolittle. McClintock had a sliver over 50 percent of the vote late Wednesday against retired Air Force Lt. Col. Charlie Brown (D).

Republican Reps. Brian Bilbray, Dana Rohrabacher, Ken Calvert and John Campbell had closer races than expected, but they all prevailed. In the 11th district, freshman Rep. Jerry McNerney (D), another one-time GOP target, beat former state Assemblyman Dean Andal (R) rather comfortably.

Up the coast in Washington state, the rematch between Rep. Dave Reichert (R) and former Microsoft executive Darcy Burner (D) remained too close to call Wednesday evening, with Reichert ahead by 1,100 votes.

The Reichert-Burner contest in 2006 was also quite close. Although the suburban Seattle district is leaning Democratic, Reichert, a former King County sheriff, remains popular throughout the region.