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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Stevens trailing in Alaska Senate race

Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, the titan of Alaska politics convicted of felony charges last month, fell behind by more than 800 votes Wednesday as the count resumed in his re-election bid.

Democrat Mark Begich, the two-term mayor of Anchorage, began the day down more than 3,200 votes but went up by 814 as officials resumed their counting of early and absentee ballots. The tally was 132,196 to 131,382.

Neither side was claiming victory or conceding defeat, with tens of thousands of outstanding ballots.

"I've always said that this would be a close race," Begich said in a statement. "I'm confident that Alaskans, like the rest of the country, want a new direction in Washington, and ultimately that will be reflected in the results."

Stevens' campaign did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Last month, a federal jury in Washington convicted Stevens of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.

That might have spelled quick political doom for a lesser figure, but the 84-year-old Stevens is revered here for his decades of public service — and especially for scoring the state enormous sums of federal money.

Begich would be the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alaska since the mid-1970s and a win would put his party one step closer to a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate. Democrats are also trying to unseat Republicans in unresolved contests in Georgia and Minnesota.

Fellow senators have called on Stevens to resign if he wins, and he could face expulsion if he doesn't step down. In either case a special election would be held to determine his replacement. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, fresh from her failed run at the vice presidency, said Wednesday she'd be interested in serving in the Senate.

Should the result remain close a recount is possible. In Alaska, the losing candidate or a collection of 10 voters has three days to petition for a recount unless the vote was a tie, in which case it would be automatic.

If the difference between the candidates is 0.5 percent of the total votes cast, the state pays for the recount, to be started within three days of the recount petition. The state Elections Division has 10 days to complete the recount.

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