ANCHORAGE - Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich has not made up his mind about running for higher office, but pressure is mounting from within his own party.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader from Nevada, on Thursday strongly urged Begich to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who has held the seat since 1968.
Begich was in Washington, D.C., for the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors. He spent 30 minutes meeting with Reid on Capitol Hill.
Most of the meeting was spent discussing Alaska issues, Begich said, until the Nevada senator launched a sales pitch.
"They made their hard sell, I appreciated it, and I acknowledged it," Begich said.
He told the Anchorage Daily News afterward that he had not made a decision, but he weighed in on what was needed in Congress.
"People are looking for results-oriented leadership, and mayors are about that," Begich said after leading a seminar on how cities can cooperate with military bases. "We get stuff done. We do not sit there and dilly-dally. We do not get into partisan bickering. I think the country, and Alaskans, are striving for leadership that is no longer partisan bickering, but focused on getting things done."
Begich said he also got a push from fellow U.S. mayors, including one Florida mayor with influential union connections. The mayor took to calling him "Senator Begich" at the conference, he said.
"I don't even get questions, I get people who come to me and say, 'We're there for you,"' Begich said. "It's a consistent flow here. They're asking me, wondering. And some are just flat-out saying, 'Go, go, go, what do we need to do?"'
Stevens, 84, is the longest-serving Republican in Senate history. He's been Alaska's most influential elected official, but his reputation was damaged when his home in Girdwood was raided last summer by FBI and IRS agents. He has denied any wrongdoing in the home's renovation, which was aided by officials of VECO Corp. Two company officials have pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska state lawmakers.
Democrats hope that the investigation will persuade Alaska voters to choose another candidate.
"I think for a wide range of reasons, most of which have been in the press on a near-daily basis, Ted Stevens is very vulnerable," said Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "We think a Democrat can win the seat."
A spokeswoman with the National Republican Senatorial Committee said the GOP message to voters will be that Democrats had a chance to prove themselves but squandered it.
They will be "working hard to make sure voters are aware of the Democrats' penchant for raising taxes and spending money in Washington," said NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher. "Voters put Democrats in power to bring change to politics as usual, and they have wasted their chance to prove they are working for Americans and not themselves."
Stevens has said he's planning a vigorous campaign.
"I'm not worried about this campaign. Not in the least," he told reporters in November.
Begich said Thursday his reservations about running stem from concerns for his family.
His wife, Deborah, owns four retail businesses in Anchorage, Begich said, and he wants to have good schools for his 5-year-old son. Begich himself attended schools in Virginia for two years while his father, Nick Begich, served as Alaska's U.S representative. Nick Begich died in a 1972 plane crash.
Two other candidates from Anchorage want to replace Stevens: former state Rep. Ray Metcalfe, who is running as a Democrat, and developer David Cuddy, a Republican. Also running are Democrats Rocky Caldero of Unalaska and Frank Vondersaar of Homer, and Republican Gerald Heikes from Palmer.