ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican in Senate history, narrowly lost his re-election bid Tuesday, marking the downfall of a Washington political power and Alaska icon who couldn’t survive a conviction on federal corruption charges. His defeat by Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich moves Senate Democrats within two seats of a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.
Stevens’ ouster on his 85th birthday marks an abrupt realignment in Alaska politics and will alter the power structure in the Senate, where he has served since the days of the Johnson administration while holding seats on some of the most influential committees in Congress.
Tuesday’s tally of just over 24,000 absentee and other ballots gave Begich 146,286, or 47.56 percent, to 143,912, or 46.76 percent, for Stevens.
A recount is possible.
Begich said the defining issue in the race was the desire for a new direction in Washington, not Stevens’ legal problems.
Alaska voters “wanted to see change,” he told reporters in Anchorage. “Alaska has been in the midst of a generational shift — you could see it.”
Stevens’ campaign didn’t immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Stevens’ loss was another slap for Republicans in a year that has seen the party lose control of the White House, as well as seats in the House and Senate. It also moves Democrats one step closer to the 60 votes needed to overcome filibusters in the Senate. Democrats now hold 58 seats, when two independents who align with Democrats are included, with undecided races in Minnesota and Georgia where two Republicans are trying to hang onto their seats.
Democrats have now picked up seven Senate seats in the Nov. 4 election.
“With seven seats and counting now added to the Democratic ranks in the Senate, we have an even stronger majority that will bring real change to America,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement.
The climactic count came after a series of tumultuous days for a senator who has been straddling challenges to his power both at home and in his trial in Washington. Notwithstanding all that turmoil, Stevens revealed Tuesday that he will not ask President George W. Bush to give him a pardon for his seven felony convictions.
Stevens, speaking earlier Tuesday in Washington, said he had no idea what his life would be like in January, when the 111th Congress convenes.
“I wouldn’t wish what I’m going through on anyone, my worst enemy,” he lamented to reporters. “I haven’t had a night’s sleep for almost four months.”
Last month just days before the election, Stevens was convicted by a federal jury of lying on Senate disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations from an oil field services company.
His defeat could also allow Republican senators to sidestep the task of determining whether to kick out the longest serving member of their party in the Senate.