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Calls mount for Stevens to resign

GOP favors special election for senator's seat

By Matt Apuzzo
Associated Press / October 29, 2008
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WASHINGTON - A growing chorus of Republicans yesterday called for Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska to resign from a seat he's held for four decades after his conviction on seven felony charges.

But with the party bracing for losses in the upcoming election, many hope that Stevens will first win reelection next Tuesday, and then resign to give Republicans a chance to fill the seat with a fresh GOP face.

Stevens, 84, was convicted Monday of lying about hundreds of thousands of dollars in home renovations and gifts he received from a corrupt oil contractor. The verdict came down just a week before Election Day, too late for Republicans to put someone new on the ballot against Democrat Mark Begich.

Nevertheless, Republican presidential nominee John McCain, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, urged their Senate colleague to resign. "It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down," McCain said.

That comment beat Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's call for Stevens's resignation. And for a while it put McCain at odds with his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. Palin, who has campaigned on a record of standing up to corruption, stopped short of issuing such a call on Monday. After McCain's comments, Palin issued a new statement saying there was a cloud over Stevens's seat.

"Even if elected on Tuesday, Senator Stevens should step aside to allow a special election to give Alaskans a real choice of who will serve them in Congress," Palin said. That Stevens has a chance of winning is a testament to his storied political career, which dates back to before Alaska's statehood. If he wins, then steps down, a special election would be held to replace him.

"If a resignation is going to happen, the nation gains nothing by having it happen before the election," said Mead Treadwell, an Alaska Republican and longtime Stevens supporter.

Stevens has given no indication that he's even considering resignation. His spokesman did not return messages seeking comment yesterday. But following his conviction, Stevens forcefully declared that he remained a candidate. He asked for patience from his colleagues while his appeals play out and announced that he was heading back to Alaska to campaign.

Some Republicans were not so patient.

"Service in the Senate demands the highest ethical standards," Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said yesterday. "Unfortunately, his conviction proved that he has failed to meet those standards and he should resign immediately."

"We're frustrated because of the time frame. We're disappointed he didn't step down before this," said Alaska state Representative Wes Keller, a Republican who plans to vote for Stevens. If Stevens wins and returns to Washington, how long he stays may be up to Senate colleagues. A Senate ethics investigation would begin and Stevens could be expelled from the Senate on a two-thirds vote. McConnell predicted Stevens would be expelled, but he left open a large caveat: that the conviction survives an appeal, which could take a year or more.

"If he is reelected and the felony charge stands through the appeals process, there is zero chance that a senator with a felony conviction would not be expelled from the Senate," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell.

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