Convicted Stevens To Debate Begich Tonight In Anchorage

A day after returning to Alaska, convicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is scheduled to debate his Democratic opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, tonight in their first face-to-face matchup.

Stevens defiantly told a crowd at the Anchorage airport - named after him, of course - on Wednesday night, that he would work to clear his name after being found guilty on Monday of failing to report more than $250,000 in improper gifts from 1999 to 2006.

“I will represent Alaska in the Senate while my lawyers pursue the appeals to clear my name,” Stevens told supporters, according to the New York Times.

But Stevens is running without the support of Senate GOP leaders and Sen. John McCain, who are calling for his resignation. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party's vice presidential candidate, also said he should step down. And Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), up for re-election himself, said Stevens would be expelled from the Senate if he does overcome the odds and win a seventh full term.

Stevens claims he was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct during his month-long corruption trial in Washington, D.C., and his lawyers have asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey to look into what happened during the proceedings. Proscecutors secretly flew one witness back to Alaska before he could be interviewed by Stevens' attorneys, and the Justice Dept. was scolded by Judge Emmet Sullivan for failing to turn over all the materials and documents it had to the defense team. At one point, lead prosecutor Brenda Morris informed Judge Sullivan that the entire prosecution team had voluntarily reported itself to DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility for review.

Stevens did receive some good news on Wednesday, however. The Alaska Department of Law decided on Wednesday that Stevens can vote in next week's election despite his felony conviction because the case won't be finalized until he is sentenced sometime next year, according to the Anchorage Daily News.