Begich ousts Stevens in Senate race

Legendary Alaska senator loses seat after 40 years

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich defeated 40-year veteran U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in final counting two weeks after Election Day.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Stevens held a narrow lead on election night after polling place votes were counted, but in two weeks of counting absentee, early and questioned ballots, Begich pulled ahead of Stevens by 3,724 votes during final counting Tuesday.

With only an insignificant number of votes to be counted, Begich claimed victory Tuesday.

"I am humbled and honored to serve Alaska in the United States Senate," Begich said.

"It's been an incredible journey getting to this point and I appreciate the support and commitment of the thousands of Alaskans who have brought us to this day," Begich said.

Begich received 150,728 votes to Stevens' 147,004. The votes remaining to be counted are fewer than Begich's lead.

Begich's lead is also above the difference of 0.5 percent that would entail a state-funded recount. Now, if Stevens wants a recount he'll have to pay for it himself.

Stevens and members of his campaign staff were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Candidates have five days after the final vote is certified to ask for a recount. Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said there is no state deadline for certification, but the certified results must be provided to the Secretary of the U.S. Senate by Dec. 15. A recount cannot be requested until after the certification.

Republican Stevens, the longest serving member of his party ever in the Senate, was convicted last month on seven felony counts of failing to report $250,000 in gifts from an oil field services company.

After his conviction, Stevens fought on, challenging the validity of the prosecution and even the existence of the conviction.

Stevens had asked for his trial to be held as quickly as possible after his indictment last summer, hoping to clear his name before the election. After conviction, he blamed "repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct" for the verdict against him and promised to appeal.

As a major political figure in the state for its entire history, and having fought for statehood before that, many Alaskans continued to side with the man who had earned the nickname "Uncle Ted" over the years.

Landmarks in Alaska ranging from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute in Juneau bear his name, and are evidence of the federal dollars he brought home. Stevens' long tenure in Washington, D.C., as well as his skillful use of the levers of power in the Senate and his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee allowed him to provide well for his state.

Close to half of Alaska's voters stood by Stevens in the election, despite the conviction and calls from national Republican leaders, including Gov. Sarah Palin, to step aside.

Editor Tom Brennan of the conservative referred to "Trophy hunters from the Justice Department" who targeted Alaska politicians.

On election night, Stevens led Begich by several thousand votes, but more than one-third of Alaskans did not cast regular at-the-polls ballots. As the early, questioned and absentee ballots were counted over the next two weeks, Begich slowly climbed ahead of Stevens.

Begich, like Stevens, has a long history in Alaska. In addition to being mayor of the state's largest city, his father, Nick Begich, once represented Alaska in the House of Representatives. The elder Begich, however, was lost in a small plane in 1972 while campaigning for re-election, along with U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, D-La.

Also Tuesday U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, claimed victory in his re-election bid, and Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz conceded in a race that was largely decided on election night.

In one closely watched race in Interior Alaska, Incumbent state Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, remains ahead of challenger Karl Kassel by a single vote.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail

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