Until recently, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens was thought to be politically immune, a senator for life, a dealmaker who could satisfy Alaskans' thirst for conservative politics while solving problems with millions in federal aid.
But news that an oil field service company with a checkered political past had oozed into a cozy relationship with the longest-serving Republican in Senate history cracked the veneer of a man once thought untouchable.
Already facing a strong election challenge, Stevens now faces the possibility of seeing his reputation not only tarnished but even demolished by a seven-count federal indictment that he failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in services from Veco Corp. and its former chief executive officer, Bill Allen.
"His career is over," said Gerald McBeath, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Veteran state Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said the indictments likely will kill Stevens' hope for another term.
"I think for his re-election, it looks like a pretty hefty blow, unless he can quickly show that all the allegations are unsubstantiated."
Michael Carey, former editorial page editor for the Anchorage Daily News, said Stevens could win the August Republican primary, given that his opponents are largely unknown.
"I can't imagine him winning a general election," he said.
His likely November opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, is polling well, Carey said, and Stevens faced an age question. Also, Alaskans last year watched juries convicted three state lawmakers with ties to Veco and other public officials plead guilty or face indictment.
"I think it's the overwhelming weariness with the whole corruption matter," Carey said.
The charges were expected, McBeath said, but still "close to a political earthquake" given Stevens' importance to Alaska.
McBeath said the counts against Stevens are more defensible than the bribery charges that resulted in the conviction of three state lawmakers last year, but the effect will be the same, creating an advocacy vacuum for Alaska where a major national figure had been in place for decades, he said.
Though at times personally abrasive, Stevens, 84, enjoyed respect in Alaska as a World War II hero, a former prosecutor, a stalwart of Alaska statehood and the conduit of billions in federal dollars.
Affectionately referred to as "Uncle Ted," Stevens grew up in Indianapolis, Chicago and California. As World War II was in progress, he joined Army Air Corps and flew support missions for the Flying Tigers of the 14th Air Force.
He completed law school and practiced in Alaska and in 1954 was named U.S. attorney in Fairbanks. Two years later he went to Washington to work on Alaska statehood for Interior Secretary Fred Seaton, a statehood supporter. Eventually Stevens rose to become the Interior Department's top lawyer.
Stevens moved back to Alaska in 1961. He lost a 1962 U.S. Senate race to incumbent Ernest Gruening but was elected to the legislature and was House majority leader when appointed in 1968 to finish the term of U.S. Sen. Bob Bartlett, who had died in office.
Stevens has been involved in every major Alaska issue in the last 50 years, Carey said.
"There's not another senator who's had that much influence on a single state in modern times," Carey said.
Over nearly 40 years in the Senate, Stevens helped broker Alaska Native claims, paving the way for construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline. He pushed for a 200-mile sovereignty limit and other legislation to reduce foreign ownership of Alaska's fisheries. He has pushed relentlessly to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to petroleum drilling.
He promoted Alaska's strategic location and its vast expanse to bring in millions in defense dollars.
Savvy, loyal and personable with colleagues, Stevens moved up the ranks within the Senate, eventually ascending to committee chairmanships and using his power to secure money to build up Alaska infrastructure.
He made no apology sending federal dollars to roadless rural Alaska villages out of third-world standards, where sewerage systems were a "honey bucket" and a trip by snowmobile to a settling pond. He secured money for safe airports in communities too small to support doctors and road money to repair "highways" of gravel or blacktop made wavy by melting permafrost.
A grateful constituency in 1999 named Stevens "Alaskan of the Century" for having the greatest effect on the state in 100 years. Anchorage's international airport, the state's largest, is named in his honor. His reputation outside of Alaska of a pork-barrel politician only cemented his value within the state.
That is likely to change with the indictment, McBeath said. It could take a decade for a replacement to build up the same expertise, he said.
"That's going to hurt the state when oil prices drop, which they will, and we need to rely again on federal funding. We're going to have less of an ability to get it."
Others were not ready to pronounce Stevens' service over.
Carl Shepro, a University of Alaska Anchorage political science professor, said voters will not soon forget Stevens' importance and long record of service.
"I think he has to be convicted of something before it has a significant impact on his electability," Shepro said.
Republican Party of Alaska spokesman McHugh Pierre said officials were happy to see Stevens proclaim his innocence and vow to fight the charges.
"We're going to let the primary process play out and then we're going to endorse the winner," he said.
While Alaska Democrats called for Stevens' immediate resignation, his campaign vowed to "move full steam ahead."
"Our office has been flooded today with calls and e-mails from supporters urging the senator to press on," said spokesman Aaron Saunders. "The message from them is clear: Alaska needs Ted Stevens in the U.S. Senate."
Coghill presumes Stevens is innocent, he said, but the indictment reduces Stevens' ability to exert any authority because every decision will be clouded by questions of his motives and integrity.
There are also association issues for other Alaska elected officials. Along with previous indictments and convictions in the ongoing federal corruption investigation, it gives Alaska another black eye, he said.
"As a legislator, I have to live under that cloud of suspicion regardless of whether I have any issues or not," he said.