Sen. Ted Stevens loses his reelection race

Anchorage Mayor Mark BegichMark Peter BegichAlaska political mess has legislators divided over meeting place Former GOP chairman Royce joins lobbying shop Lobbying world MORE on Tuesday night did what the U.S. Justice Department, Alaska Democrats and Capitol Hill Republicans could not: Eject Ted Stevens from the U.S. Senate.

Begich, Stevens's Democratic challenger, ended the longest-serving Republican senator's 40-year legislative career with a dramatic, come-from-behind victory as the last ballots were counted in Alaska. Media outlets called the race for Begich around 8:30 p.m. EDT with Begich leading by 150,708 to 147,004 -- a margin of 3,724 ballots with only 2,500 left uncounted.
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“I am humbled and honored to serve Alaska in the United States Senate,” Begich said in a statement. “It’s been an incredible journey getting to this point, and I appreciate the support and commitment of the thousands of Alaskans who have brought us to this day. I can’t wait to get to work fighting for Alaskan families.”

The news hit Stevens towards the end of his 85th birthday, on a day when he narrowly averted expulsion from the Senate Republican Conference. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) had proposed a motion expelling Stevens, but withdrew it Tuesday morning.

Convicted last month of seven felony counts of falsely concealing gifts and services from a former Alaskan oil services firm on his financial disclosure forms, Stevens gradually fell behind Begich after the initial tie on election night Nov. 4. On Tuesday, the Alaska Democratic Party touted the latest numbers as proof that the likelihood of a recount is reduced, with the recount outside of Alaska's state recount trigger of 0.5 percent.

As recently as Tuesday morning, Stevens had told reporters, "I still think I'm going to win," even though the vote-counting still had him down by more than 1,000 votes by mid-day Tuesday, Washington D.C. time.

In the end, Stevens's Oct. 27 conviction not only drained him of political capital -- a long line of Republicans publicly abandoned him -- but it left him with only a week to mount a frantic campaign against Begich, who had had three months to prepare since winning the Democratic primary in August.

Begich, 46, spent a decade in the Anchorage Assembly -- first elected at 26 -- before being elected the city's mayor in 2003. He is the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the U.S. House or Senate since Mike Gravel in 1980-81. His father, U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, was killed in a 1972 plane crash in Alaska.

Stevens was indicted by government prosecutors on July 29 for failing to list more than $250,000 worth of gifts and services to his home from the head of Vesco Corp., a now-defunct oil services company. The senator asked for an expedited trial schedule, in hopes of an acquittal before the election, and then blamed corrupt prosecutors for his conviction. He is appealing.

One of only a handful of World War II veterans in the Senate, Stevens's government career stretches back to volunteer work for Dwight Eisenhower's presidential campaign and later positions in the Interior Department under the Eisenhower Administration, where he worked to establish Alaska's statehood.

He served as a U.S. attorney in the 1950s and later survived a series of health scares including prostate cancer and a 1978 plane crash which killed his wife, Ann. In the most recent years before his indictment and conviction, Stevens was lampooned nationally for championing funding for Gravina Island Bridge, which linked the sparsely-populated peninsula town of Ketchikan to the Alaskan mainland but gained infamy as a "Bridge to Nowhere" symbol of wasteful congressional spending.

Yet few politicians were more strongly and consistently supported by their state's voters -- Stevens was largely responsible for Eisenhower granting statehood to Alaska in 1958, and he never received less than 66 percent of the vote in any of his full-term general elections, dating back to 1972.

As the fourth-longest-serving member of the Senate, only three current members have served longer terms than Stevens: Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

On Tuesday, he said the scrutiny of the trial and re-election has taken a personal toll.

"I wouldn't wish what I'm going through on anyone — my worst enemy, OK?" Stevens said. "Look, I haven't had a night's sleep now for almost four months, all right? And I went home even during the trial and came to the Senate the night after the trial. I've been living about three different lives."

Tuesday actually began with a temporary reprieve for Stevens, as DeMint said he agreed with the prevailing sentiment among GOP senators that his motion to expel Stevens was unnecessary since Stevens was unlikely to win his reelection race.

“It looks like it has been decided by the Alaska voters,” DeMint said.

After the race was called for Begich Tuesday night, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTensions rise in Senate's legislative 'graveyard' 2020 Republicans accuse Schumer of snubbing legislation Schumer: Leadership trying to work out competing surprise medical bill measures MORE (D-N.Y.) issued an immediate statement lauding Begich.

“Mark Begich will be an outstanding senator for Alaska and the country, and 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," Schumer said.

The Begich win moves the Democrats tantalizingly close to the magic number of 60 seats -- critically necessary to move legislation in Congress's upper chamber. To reach 60, Democrats must win two other still-pending Senate races in Georgia and Minnesota. In Georgia, Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' MORE (R) faces Democrat Jim Martin in a Dec. 2 runoff, while in Minnesota the contest headed for a statewide recount, with GOP incumbent Norm Coleman leading Democrat Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenTake Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota Ninth woman accuses Al Franken of inappropriate contact Al Franken to host SiriusXM radio show MORE by 206 votes.

Trouble also popped up elsewhere for Stevens on Tuesday. Reps. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.) and John Campbell (R-Calif.) announced they have requested a probe of some $240 million in earmarks Stevens received this year. In a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations committee chairmen, Flake and Campbell said they want Stevens’s earmarks for fiscal 2008 scrutinized before they are granted.

“I would hope that his conviction spurs Congress to examine these earmarks more closely before they are awarded,” the two congressman said in a joint statement.

This story was updated at 11:57 p.m.