Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the history of the Senate, is falling behind Democrat Mark Begich in his re-election bid as absentee ballots and other ballots are counted.
As of mid-afternoon, Begich was 2,374 votes ahead.
Two weeks ago, Stevens looked like the probable winner, with a margin of more than 3,000 votes. But that advantage melted away as officials started counting tens of thousands of early votes and absentee ballots — some of which were still arriving last week. Under Alaska law, late-arriving ballots aren't counted until Nov. 19.
Begich may have the lead, but it's tiny: less than 1 percent of the total. Unless one of the candidates concedes, there's a good chance there will be an official re-count, probably in December.
Stevens was indicted this summer on seven counts of concealing gifts from a friend in the oil industry. Federal prosecutors charged him with failing to list on his Senate financial disclosure forms $250,000 worth of remodeling on his house and other favors. Stevens fought the charges and took a political gamble when he requested a speedy trial.
The gamble didn't pay off. A week before Election Day, a jury in Washington, D.C., found Stevens guilty on all seven counts, and he was forced to return to Alaska and run a last-minute campaign with fresh felony convictions attached to his name. Stevens aired TV ads insisting he had no been convicted, based on the argument that he hadn't yet been sentenced. He also said he was the victim of misconduct by federal prosecutors and that he was planning an appeal.
Most legal experts agree that, for all practical purposes, Stevens has been convicted. No convicted felon has ever been elected to the Senate. The fact that Stevens, who has held his seat for 40 years, has made this such a close race is a testament to his near-legendary status in Alaska.