Sen. Ted Stevens conceded the election for U.S. Senate to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich on Wednesday, bringing an end to his 40 years as the titan of Alaska politics.
Stevens' office issued a written statement just before noon Alaska time. He said that given the number of ballots that remain, it is apparent that Begich's lead will stand.
"I am deeply grateful to Alaskans for allowing me to serve them for 40 years in the U.S. Senate. It has been the greatest honor of my life to work with Alaskans of all political persuasions to make this state that we all love a better place," Stevens said.
"I wish Mayor Begich and his family well. My staff and I stand willing to help him prepare for his new position."
Stevens, who turned 85 on Tuesday, is the longest-serving Republican in Senate history.
Stevens maintained a relatively low profile Wednesday. He appeared in public only rarely and stayed mostly inside his office in the Hart Senate Office building. He had at least one high-profile visitor stop by: his close friend, Bill Sheffield, the Democratic governor of Alaska from 1982 to 1986. Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, whose own race remains undecided in Minnesota, also stopped by his office.
In the evening, Stevens and his wife, Catherine, attended the dinner for retiring Republican senators.
While his Senate career is over, Stevens' legal battles continue. A Washington, D.C., jury convicted Stevens in October of seven felonies for lying on his financial disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in gifts, including home renovations. The gifts came from Bill Allen, chief of the oil-field services company Veco Corp. and the man at the center of the still unfolding federal investigation into corruption in Alaska politics. Stevens maintains he is innocent and will fight through appeals.
Despite the conviction, Stevens keeps his pension, which the National Taxpayer's Union calculates at about $122,000 a year. Members of Congress can lose their pensions for being convicted of specified crimes, such as bribery and racketeering, but Stevens' offenses aren't on the list. Senators also have investment retirement accounts.
Begich said he will be sworn in as Alaska's new senator on Jan. 6. It will be the first time in nearly 30 years a Democrat represents Alaska in Congress, since Mike Gravel lost his re-election bid to the Senate in 1980.
A BOOMER DEMOCRAT
Begich claimed victory Tuesday afternoon after the latest count of absentee and questioned ballots widened his lead to 3,724 votes. With only around 2,500 ballots from overseas remaining to be counted, the lead was insurmountable barring a major flaw in the counting. Stevens' statement made no mention of asking for a recount.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young and Gov. Sarah Palin, all Republicans, issued statements congratulating Begich and praising Stevens' contributions to Alaska. Begich thanked Stevens for his service and said he hopes soon to meet with him, Palin, Murkowski and Young to talk about "how we work as a team."
Begich is going into office characterizing himself as a different kind of Democrat, one who favors oil-field development offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as gun rights.
He said having a Democrat pushing for ANWR drilling with a new approach is going to help the cause.
"Sen. Stevens at times would demonize opponents. In my view that's not what you do -- one day you may be with us and one day you may not. My goal is to educate (members of Congress) on how important ANWR is to the big picture," Begich said.
MENDING ALASKA'S IMAGE
Begich, 46, said part of his role is to try to repair Alaska's tarnished image nationally.
"It's not about corruption, it's not only about ANWR, it's about a bigger picture of how we can be part of the solution," he said.
Begich said it's necessary to package Alaska's needs in terms of how to help the whole nation.
He conceded the close race shows it's hard for many Alaskans to lose Stevens, even with the felony verdict.
"They were having an emotional, tough time here with this change that's occurring. This was a fairly significant shift in a lot of ways. It's history," Begich said.
Some parts of the state were more willing to embrace the shift than others. Begich only narrowly won Anchorage and Fairbanks and lost in Mat-Su and the Kenai-Soldotna areas.
Southeast and rural Alaska overwhelmingly supported Begich. In rural Alaska, a former Stevens stronghold that has received huge amounts of "Stevens money" over the years, Begich was hugely successful, winning 54 percent of the vote to 41 percent for Stevens. Begich said rural Alaska is looking for long-term solutions, not just one-year earmarks.
"Rural Alaska has shifted, they really have shifted. They are looking 30 and 40 years out," he said.
Mark Begich biography
Born: March 31, 1962, in Anchorage
Education: Graduated from Steller Secondary School in 1981
Government positions: 2008 -- Elected to the U.S. Senate; six-year term starts in January 2009; 2003 to present -- Mayor of Anchorage; 2001-02 -- University of Alaska Board of Regents; 1995-2002 -- Alaska Commission on Post-Secondary Education, chairman 1996-98; 1995-2003 -- Alaska Student Loan Corp., chairman 1996-2002; 1988 to 1998 -- Anchorage Assembly, served as chairman three times
Business: Has worked as a real estate agent and owned apartment buildings, is part owner of a Carson City, Nev., resort. His wife is part owner of the Kobuk Coffee Company store downtown and Sourdough Mercantile at the airport. He and his wife also have income from stock market investments.
Family: Married to Deborah Bonito since 1990, one son -- Jacob
Parents: His father, Nick, the Alaska member of the U.S. House in 1971-72, was lost when his plane vanished while he was campaigning. His mother, Pegge, ran for the office in 1984 and 1986 but lost.