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Alaska Reacts To Sen. Stevens' Conviction

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Alaska Reacts To Sen. Stevens' Conviction

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Alaska Reacts To Sen. Stevens' Conviction

Alaska Reacts To Sen. Stevens' Conviction

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Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens has been found guilty on all counts in his corruption trial. He is facing re-election next week and what had been a solid lead in the polls has now narrowed considerably.

McCain Calls On Sen. Stevens To Resign

How are Alaskans reacting to the latest on 'Uncle Ted?' John Ryan of member station KTOO in Juneau reports.

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Even as Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens vowed to appeal his conviction on federal corruption charges, there were new signs that support for him was cracking. Presidential candidate John McCain called Tuesday for his fellow Republican to step down, saying the 40-year Senate veteran "has broken his trust with the people."

In a statement issued by his campaign, McCain said the convictions were "a sign of the health of our democracy that the people continue to hold their representatives to account for improper or illegal conduct, but this verdict is also a sign of the corruption and insider-dealing that has become so pervasive in our nation's capital.

"It is clear that Sen. Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down," McCain said. "I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all."

McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, on Monday issued a statement saying the verdict "shines a light on the corrupting influence" of a big oil services company whose CEO gave many of the gifts to Stevens that the senator did not report. "I'm confident Sen. Stevens will do what's right for the people of Alaska," she said.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, himself in a tight re-election race in Kentucky, similarly abandoned any loyalty to Stevens. "Sen. Stevens will be held accountable so the public trust can be restored," McConnell said.

And Nevada Sen. John Ensign, the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said, "This is a reminder that no one is above the law."

The 84-year-old senator has to persuade Alaska voters to re-elect him to an eighth term in the Senate even though he has been found guilty of seven counts in connection with lying about $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from a wealthy oil contractor.

The verdict came as a "complete shock" to many Alaskans, correspondent Elizabeth Arnold reported on Day to Day from Anchorage. "This is Uncle Ted, the top political figure in the state for more than 40 years, a man who's rightly or wrongly touched about everyone up here with the millions of dollars of federal money he's brought home...."

"Many people up here simply didn't believe it, or want to believe it that this maybe instead was just some kind of failure on his part to understand complicated paperwork," Arnold said.

But amid intense media coverage of the trial and a campaign by the national Democratic Party reminding voters how few sitting senators have been indicted, "in recent days there's been a growing realization that he could be convicted. But even then, people here believed it might be just a few counts and that somehow he'd persevere ...," Arnold said.

Stevens is in a tight race with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat. That election could have national implications. Democrats are driving to increase their power in the Senate. And Stevens' seat is one more that Republicans suddenly have to worry about.

Stevens vowed to "fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have."

Outside the courthouse, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matt Friedrich noted that the jury had found that Stevens filed false financial disclosure forms over a six-year period.

The monthlong trial revealed that employees for VECO Corp., an oil services company, transformed Stevens' modest mountain cabin into a modern, two-story home with wraparound porches, a sauna and a wine cellar.

"The evidence at trial showed that Sen. Stevens committed this crime to hide from the public and from his constituents the fact that he had received hundreds of thousands of dollars of freebies from an Alaska corporation and its chief executive officer," Friedrich said.

And, Friedrich said, Stevens accepted these gifts, including renovations on his home, at a time when the corporation and its chief executive officer were seeking the senator's assistance.

Stevens faces a maximum of five years on each of the seven counts, though the sentencing guidelines call for far less time, and the judge has the discretion to suspend all jail time.

If he is re-elected, there is no Senate rule that would automatically force him out. He can be ousted only by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Once the seat is vacant, Alaska law would require a special election to replace him.

But that would be a long way off. If he is re-elected, his appeal would take months, and he might well seek a pardon from President Bush before the president leaves office.

The Senate Ethics Committee, by tradition, does not start expulsion proceedings until all appeals are exhausted.

From NPR staff and wire reports.