By GENE JOHNSON
Associated Press Writer
ANCHORAGE - Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, a stalwart of Alaska politics who was convicted of felony charges last month, fell further behind his Democratic rival Friday, and many of the remaining ballots come from parts of the state that have favored the challenger.
Even a Republican pollster and Stevens' friend said his chances for re-election to a seventh term were slim.
"When he came back from the trial and began to campaign personally, it really made a difference," said David Dittman. "That doesn't change anything for all those votes that were cast earlier."
Mark Begich, the two-term mayor of Anchorage, increased his lead from 814 votes to 1,061 as ballot counting resumed Friday. State election officials said they planned to count 10,000 votes, and the bulk of the rest — about 25,000 — on Tuesday.
Neither candidate was claiming victory nor conceding defeat.
Begich said he was "very pleased we're ahead of the game," but added, "I can't predict anything at this point."
Roughly 15,000 of the remaining ballots come from Anchorage and the surrounding region where Begich is leading. Nearly 9,000 more are from the state's southeastern panhandle, which Begich is winning handily. Votes from both areas won't be counted until Tuesday.
Of the votes to be counted Friday, about 5,000 come from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough north of Anchorage, a conservative area home to Gov. Sarah Palin. Stevens has been leading in that area by a margin of 2-to-1. Also to be counted were votes from the interior city of Fairbanks and surrounding areas, where Stevens has a slight lead; and the vast Alaska Bush, where Begich is winning easily
Dittman said most of the ballots being counted now were cast in the weeks before the election. Absentee ballots went out Oct. 14; Stevens was convicted Oct. 27 of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.
Statewide, about 15,000 of the remaining votes are questioned ballots, known elsewhere as provisional ballots. They are most commonly cast by people who are voting away from their home polling places.
Ivan Moore, an Anchorage pollster who has worked for Democrats, said voters out of the area tend to be younger, single and more likely to vote Democratic.
"I just don't see a significant block of votes that's remaining for Ted to get him back into this," Moore said.
Begich was winning votes in military installations and the state's remotest areas, both historical strongholds for Stevens.
The Democrat contends that Stevens' return wasn't enough to win over those who supported him in the past.
"His base of support — during the trial, prior to the conviction, and now — didn't stay with him," he said of Stevens. "His core vote areas, those guys said no. They changed votes."
Stevens' campaign didn't return calls seeking comment.
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