ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The federal trial of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens is set to continue on Monday, that's after the judge rejected a push to declare a mistrial because of mistakes by the prosecution. It's the latest wrinkle in a trial that has fascinated Stevens' constituents back home in Alaska, and the senator has been running for re-election long distance. NPR's Martin Kaste has more on that peculiar race from Anchorage.
MARTIN KASTE: Ted Stevens has been cruising to re-election for four decades - often with 70 percent of the vote. But this year, things are different. Many onetime supporters have soured on him, people like Dave Conrad.
Mr. DAVE CONRAD (Former Ted Stevens Supporter): He's above it all. He's above the law. And it's time for a change.
KASTE: It doesn't help that Stevens is stuck in a Washington courtroom, while back in Alaska, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is running ads like this.
Unidentified man: Until seven weeks ago, only 10 serving senators had been indicted. Ted Stevens is the 11th.
KASTE: Two months ago, the Justice Department charged Stevens with failing to disclose $250,000 worth of gifts and favors from the oil industry - favors that allegedly included freebies on a home remodeling job. Stevens says he can't talk about the charges until the case is over. Instead, he's running ads too, reminding Alaskans of the federal largess that he's brought them over the years.
Unidentified Woman: Thankfully, Senator Stevens stepped in to help fund 145 clinics across the state to provide health care to all Alaskans.
KASTE: But in a state that thinks of itself as a collection of small towns and villages, TV ads can do only so much. People here expect the personal touch, so Stevens is trying a new technique.
Mr. MICHAEL QUARELLA (Voter): Your phone rings, you pick it up and it has an automated voice saying that you're invited to a teleconference between Ted Stevens and anyone who wants to ask him a question.
KASTE: Voter Michael Quarella describes the teleconference calls that people here have been getting around dinnertime lately. With this method, Stevens can have a chat with hundreds, maybe thousands of voters at once. Not that the experience is always that satisfying.
Mr. QUARELLA: Well, I stayed on for almost an hour. The one time that I did get on, and I never got to talk to anybody.
KASTE: Quarella prefers seeing a candidate in person, which is why he's at this middle school for a town meeting with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
Mayor MARK BEGICH (Mayor, Anchorage): It might bring a different style to the politics of Washington City.
KASTE: Begich is a pro-gun, pro-oil-drilling, western-style Democrat. Tonight, he's trying to convince these voters that he'll be able to continue Stevens' legacy of bringing home the federal bacon, a major concern for Alaskans. Begich has a slight lead in the polls, though that probably has less to do with the calculus of clout than it does with Stevens' indictment. Even so, Begich resists talking about his opponent's legal troubles.
Mayor BEGICH: I've been pushed and prodded by media on a regular basis, as it's just not - I mean, he will have his challenges. He will have to be answerable to those. He will have to deal with those issues and he's the only one that can.
KASTE: Begich is probably smart not to stake his campaign on a trial that could very well end in a not-guilty verdict or a mistrial before Election Day. Plus, he knows that some Alaskans simply don't care about the indictment.
Mr. HANK LANGMAN (Ted Stevens Volunteer): As far as the trial is concern, it's a travesty.
KASTE: In an Anchorage soup kitchen, Hank Langman stands up for his senator. He's a Stevens' volunteer, a group of them is working here this morning, dressed in starchy new red, white, and blue Stevens T-shirts as they dish up breakfast.
Mr. LANGMAN: Most of us are the old-timers. We know that he is the man that can do for us. He still has the fire to do it. Let's give him the opportunity.
KASTE: Langman says his mission here at the soup kitchen and elsewhere is to reach the 'new people,' as he calls them - those who don't share the old-timers' appreciation of the man they call 'Uncle Ted.' Martin Kaste, NPR News, Anchorage.
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