WASHINGTON - It's not unusual for a senator to hold a fundraiser for an embattled colleague. If they're in different parties, however, that's another story.
But when the two colleagues are Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, whose peas-in-a-pod friendship spans decades, even the most hard-bitten partisans seem to understand.
It's fair to say Inouye would like his Democratic Party to control the Senate by a greater margin. But not at the expense of Stevens, his friend and ally in the increasingly rough-and-tumble Senate.
So Inouye held a fundraising lunch for his friend on Wednesday to help Stevens with what promises to be his most difficult campaign in almost four decades.
Stevens and Inouye have helped each other raise money before, but that was when each was cruising to re-election. They're both iconic figures in their respective states.
But now, Stevens is part of a far-ranging federal investigation in a corruption scandal that has crippled the Alaska GOP and sent his poll ratings tumbling. This time, he could use the money.
Stevens' campaign hoped the noontime lunch just a block from the Capitol would net $50,000 or so from the anticipated 60-70 guests, said campaign treasurer Tim McKeever in Alaska.
Anchorage Democratic Mayor Mark Begich is running to defeat Stevens, and the hard-fought race is essential to Democrats' goal of padding the chamber with enough Democrats to roll over GOP delaying tactics.
But to Senate old-timers like Inouye, 83, and Stevens, 84 - each of whom has served in the chamber since the 1960s - friendship comes before party. In the increasingly bitter world of Washington, the friendship of Inouye and Stevens stands out. They call each other "brother." Both served with honor in World War II.
The two have traveled the world together are the top two senators on the panel controlling the Pentagon budget. For years, they've used the post to deliver federal money to their states. They are also the chairman and top Republican on the powerful Commerce Committee.
However, when Inouye's wife passed away two years ago, Stevens traveled to Hawaii for the funeral. With that perspective, fellow Democrats are unlikely to take too much umbrage at Inouye's gesture toward his GOP friend.
"It says that friendships and relationships are more important than political parties," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
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