Sen. Stevens Leading In Alaska

It doesn't look like the Alaska Senate race is going to be decided anytime soon. There are still tens of thousands of ballots to count. At this point, incumbent Republican senator Ted Stevens has a slight lead, despite his seven felony convictions.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Let's go to Alaska now, where the Senate race is still undecided. Ted Stevens is, well, he's still standing politically. The longest-serving Republican senator may be a convicted felon, but plenty of Alaskans were still willing to vote for him on Tuesday. They're still counting the ballots there, and so far, Senator Stevens has a small lead. NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Anchorage.

MARTIN KASTE: Michael Cary predicted Stevens would lose, so on election night, when he saw Stevens take the lead, he was pretty shocked.

Mr. MICHAEL CARY (Host, Anchorage Edition): I don't know. I mean, do you have to have somebody wearing a prison suit before you finally decide, you know, I really think we ought to change things.

KASTE: Cary is a longtime Alaska journalist. These days, he jokingly refers to himself as an aspiring pundit. He's no fan of Ted Stevens, but after he got over his initial annoyance, he admitted there was a certain logic to Alaskans re-electing their senator.

Mr. CARY: Really, why would we want change? The federal government through Ted Stevens is throwing money at us. Why would we want things to change?

KASTE: Still, support for Stevens has not been quite as loud and proud as in past years. This is how is fellow Republican, Sarah Palin, responded when she was asked outside her polling place in Wasilla, whether she'd voted for him.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): I am also exercising my right to privacy, and I don't have to tell anybody who I vote for. Nobody does, and that's really cool about America, also.

KASTE: So, how did he do it? How did a convicted felon keep himself in the race? In part, he did it by telling Alaskans that he hadn't really been convicted, at least not yet because he hasn't been sentenced, and he still hopes to appeal. In the final hours of the campaign, even on election day, he was running ads proclaiming his innocence. This one stars a guy in a denim jacket and plaid shirt angrily chopping wood.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified man: Nobody's perfect. But them fellas in D.C., they worked Ted over pretty good.

KASTE: The ad repeated some of Stevens's claims of prosecutorial misconduct, and it appealed to Alaskans' deep-seated sense of resentment toward the lower 48.

Unidentified man: Those folks in Washington, they already cast their ballots. Soon, Alaskans, we'll get to cast ours.

KASTE: Stevens posted some of his best numbers in Alaska's Bible belt, the conservative communities near Anchorage, towns like Palin's Wasilla. Voters there may have had qualms about Stevens, but they weren't about to vote for a Democrat. Still, that Democrat, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, chooses to see the glass as half full.

Mayor MARK BEGICH (Democrat, Anchorage): I have to point out that almost every race - well, every race he's been in, he has usually received 70, 75 percent. He's below 50 percent. More than 50 percent of Alaskans voted against Ted Stevens.

KASTE: Stevens leads the count right now by roughly 3,000 votes, with as many as 60,000 yet to be counted, some of those absentee ballots still in the mail. So, it could be a week or two before Alaskans' verdict on Stevens is finally in. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Anchorage.

BRAND: Another undecided Senate race is now decided. That's in Oregon. The Democratic challenger, Jeff Merkley, has defeated Republican Senator Gordon Smith. Minnesota and Georgia, still undecided in their Senate races.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And one more result to report, President-elect Obama has won North Carolina. He's now able to claim victory in three former Confederate states and an electoral college total of 365. Missouri is still not settled.

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