Alaska's Stevens Now Seeking Voters' Verdict Following his conviction on corruption charges, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is back in his home state, campaigning for re-election. Stevens is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, but cracks are showing in his base of support. He faces a strong challenge from Democrat Mark Begich.
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Alaska's Stevens Now Seeking Voters' Verdict

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Alaska's Stevens Now Seeking Voters' Verdict

Alaska's Stevens Now Seeking Voters' Verdict

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This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. With just four days to go, some previously safe Republican senators are fighting for their seats. Two examples, Georgia's Saxby Chambliss and Alaska's Ted Stevens, their seats are two of the ten the Democrats are hoping to win in their quest for a 60 seat filibusterer proof majority. And we begin this hour with stories about both races. First, Senator Stevens has returned to Alaska after he was convicted Monday on Federal corruption charges. A jury on Washington DC found him guilty of concealing thousands of dollars with the gift from the friend in the oil industry. Both John McCain and Sarah Palin have called on Stevens to step down. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports from Anchorage, Stevens has no intention of going quietly.

MARTIN KASTE: Stevens is back on the campaign trail where he's making a surprising assertion.

Senator TED STEVENS (Republican, Alaska; 2008 Senatorial Candidate): I have not been convicted of anything.

KASTE: He said that twice last night during a TV debate. In point of fact, Stevens has been convicted, though he is playing an appeal.

Senator STEVENS: That case is still pending on the basis of motions we filed for a new trial or for a dismissal of the case because of prosecutorial misconduct.

KASTE: Prosecutors did make mistakes during the trial, to the point of getting themselves chewed out by the judge. But it's anyone's guess whether Stevens can get the verdict overturned.

(Soundbite of unknown song)

You know baby, this could have describe away.

KASTE: Stevens' conviction is not something people wanted to hear about at his welcome-home rally on Wednesday night. In a hangar at Ted Stevens International Airport, the 84-year-old senator waded into an adoring crowd.

Senator STEVENS: That's her.

Unidentified Woman: I voted for you every time and that nothing has changed.

Senator STEVENS: Good. Thank you. Appreciate it.

Unidentified Man: That I'm so glad you're here.

Senator STEVENS: I do. It's nice to be home.

KASTE: Someone had printed up black T-shirts with the message, F the Feds, Vote for Ted. Margie Johnson had one on; she doesn't think much of the jury's verdict.

Ms. MARGIE JOHNSON (Ted Stevens' supporter): Twelve outsiders trying to pass judgment on our United States senator? I won't have any part of it. That's like in the days pre-statehood, when outsiders used to pass judgment on us.

KASTE: By outsider, you mean, someone from the Lower 48, Right?

Ms. JOHNSON: Yeah, that's right. Those outsiders Lower 48, East Coast, whatever you want to call them, they aint taking out our guy, we're going to stand with him.

KASTE: But away from the rallies, cracks are showing in Stevens' base of support. Eddie Burke, a conservative radio talk show host in Anchorage, mocked Stevens for insisting he is innocent.

Mr. EDDIE BURKE (Conservative Talk Show Host, Anchorage): We got prisons full of people who are on appeal. You go into a prison, put them all in one big room and ask them, how many of you are innocent? I wonder how many will raise their hand?

KASTE: Burke told listeners he could no longer vote for Stevens, even if it meant handing the election to a Democrat. Callers pleaded with him to reconsider.

Mr. BURKE: Let's go to Coney on line one. Coney, you there?

Ms. CONEY (caller): You need to get off this subject.

Mr. BURKE: I can't.

Ms. CONEY: Yes. We're going to lose our seat for the party. Get out and vote for Ted. He will.

Mr. BURKE: I'm not going to vote for a felon, Coney.

Ms. CONEY: The rest of it will fall into place.

KASTE: There is a theory among some Republicans here, more a hope than a theory, that Stevens' real plan is to get re-elected and then step down, buying time for his party to find a fresh candidate. In Alaska, it's not the governor that picks a replacement senator; state law requires a special election within 90 days. Some Republican voters would like to force that special election by electing Stevens now, but the Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, says he's not worried about that kind of strategic voting.

Mayor MARK BEGICH (Democrat, Anchorage): You know some of these guys that are calling in, I can, I recognize their voice, because I'm a call-in radio guy. And they're part of the party machinery behind the scenes. And the fact is, Alaskans, 60 percent of Alaskans, are non-party-affiliated. We vote for the person.

KASTE: But in this case, that person is Uncle Ted. There's still so much affection for him around here that even his Democratic challenger is reluctant to call him a felon. Begich makes allusions to Stevens' legal difficulties, but he always stops short of calling for Stevens to step down. The Democrat says he'll leave that decision to the voters. Martin Caste NPR News, Anchorage.

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