McCain Calls For Sen. Stevens To Step Down

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ted Stevens, Monday, Oct. 27, 2008.
AP
Republican presidential candidate John McCain is calling for Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens to step down.

Stevens was convicted Monday on seven felony counts in connection with a corruption case.

In a statement issued Tuesday morning by his campaign, McCain says Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that the long-serving Republican should step down.

McCain said the verdict in Stevens' trial is a sign of the corruption and insider-dealing that he says has become so pervasive in Washington.

"It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down," the statement read. "I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all."

McCain and Stevens are not close. They've frequently exchanged barbs on the Senate floor, particularly over the pet projects that lawmakers insert into spending bills. Stevens is an unabashed champion of such earmarks - bringing home $3.5 billion worth to Alaska in the last five years alone.

McCain is the Senate's biggest critic of earmarks.

McCain's rival, Democrat Barack Obama, held out Stevens' conviction as an example of what's wrong with Washington, and called for his resignation.

"Yesterday's ruling wasn't just a verdict on Senator Stevens but on the broken politics that has infected Washington for decades," said Obama. "It's time to put an end to the corruption and influence-peddling, restore openness and accountability, and finally put government back in the hands of the people it serves. Senator Stevens should step down."

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, Alaska's governor, also called for Stevens to resign.

"After being found guilty on seven felony counts, I had hoped Senator Stevens would take the opportunity to do the statesman-like thing and erase the cloud that is covering his Senate seat," Palin said in a statement. "He has not done so. Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service but the time has come for him to step aside. 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."

After the verdict was announced yesterday, Palin said it was "a sad day for Alaska and a sad day for Senator Stevens and his family."

"The verdict shines a light though on the corrupting influence of the big oil service company up there in Alaska that was allowed to control too much of our state," she added from a podium on the tarmac in Richmond. (Read more in From The Road)

The Bush White House issued a statement Tuesday saying: "Sen. Stevens has said that he's going to fight his conviction and that he is going to appeal, and that is his right to do. Since it's going to be a matter of ongoing litigation, we'll decline to comment for now."

Stevens could be sentenced to as many as 35 years in prison, although he is likely to receive far less, if any, prison time.

Stevens, who first entered the Senate in 1968, is up for re-election and now faces Alaska's voters next week as a convicted felon. Democrats hope to seize the once reliably Republican seat as part of their bid for a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate.

While Stevens faces long odds where polls showed a close race even before the verdict, few in Alaska were willing to count him out.

"It's very possible that (Stevens) is going to win the election," said Carl Shepro, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska in Anchorage.

While Begich has run a strong campaign, "Stevens has been blanketing the airwaves too," Shepro said. "Even though he's not here, he's had a lot of air time."

Many Alaskans believe that Stevens - a 40-year senator and a legend in Alaska politics - is being unjustly attacked and that the charges against him don't amount to real corruption, Shepro said.

"A lot of people feel the senator is completely innocent and that there are people who have been doing favors for him without him being aware of it," Shepro said. "The senator is very popular in Alaska."

But Anchorage-based pollster Ivan Moore said Stevens is almost certain to lose.

"I think it's pretty much inconceivable that Ted will be able to pull it out from this point," said Moore, who has been polling on the Alaska Senate race for more than a year. Moore's latest poll, completed last week as trial testimony was wrapping up, showed the Senate race essentially tied.

Many voters said they were waiting for a verdict to make up their minds, and most of them are likely to be convinced that as a convicted felon Stevens must be ousted from the Senate, Moore said. A Washington jury found Stevens guilty of seven felony corruption charges of accepting home renovations and other gifts from an oil executive and then lying about it.

The verdict "is going to hurt him to the point where he can't win," Moore said of Stevens.

Moore predicted a relatively close race, even with the conviction.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, virtually conceded the race in the wake of the guilty verdict.

"Ted Stevens served his constituents for over 40 years, and I am disappointed to see his career end in disgrace," Ensign said. "Sen. Stevens had his day in court, and the jury found he violated the public's trust - as a result he is properly being held accountable. This is a reminder that no one is above the law."

The veteran senator was in no mood for accommodation Monday night.

In a statement issued by his Senate office, Stevens said he was disappointed but not surprised at the verdict, "given the repeated instances of prosecutorial misconduct in this case."

Stevens proclaimed his innocence and said, "I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have."

He asked Alaskans and his Senate colleagues to stand with him as he pursues his legal rights and his re-election campaign.

Begich, the mayor of Alaska's largest city, Anchorage, did not address the verdict directly.

"This has been a very difficult year for Alaskans, and a long year," Begich said in a statement. "I believe Alaskans will move forward because we have many critical issues and challenges ahead of us to deal with."

Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party, said Stevens should resign from the Senate. "Alaskans deserve better from their public officials. It's time for us to elect an ethical and honest senator who will move this state forward," she said.

McHugh Pierre, a spokesman for the Alaska Republican Party, said the party continued to support Stevens, calling him a conservative who best represents the interests and beliefs of Alaskans.

Rep. Don Young, a veteran Alaska Republican who faces a tough re-election fight amid questions about his own ethics, said he still thinks Stevens can win.

"He's the best thing for the Senate. Alaskans know this: This is a trumped-up charge," Young said.

In addition, if he's re-elected, Stevens could face an expulsion vote in the Senate, although senators can recommend a lesser sanction. But if he loses, he could escape Senate punishment since an ethics investigation to consider expulsion would not be finished before he left office.