Stevens concedes Senate race to Begich

Sean Cockerham | Tribune Media Services

Sen. Ted Stevens today conceded the election for U.S. Senate to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, bringing to an end his 40 years as the dominant force in Alaska politics.

Stevens' office issued a written statement just before noon Alaska time:

"Given the number of ballots that remain to be counted, it is apparent the election has been decided and Mayor Begich has been elected.

"My family and I wish to thank the thousands of Alaskans who stood by us and who supported my re-election. It was a tough fight that would not have been possible without the help of so many Alaskans - people who I am honored to call my friends. I will always remember their thoughts, prayers, and encouragement.

"I am proud of the campaign we ran and regret that the outcome was not what we had hoped for. 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.

"I wish Mayor Begich and his family well. My staff and I stand willing to help him prepare for his new position."

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. Begich leads by just over 1 percent with more than 315,000 votes cast in the race.

Stevens' statement made no mention of asking for a recount.

Stevens, who turned 85 on Tuesday, is the longest-serving Republican in Senate history.

A week before the election, a Washington, D.C., jury convicted Stevens of seven felonies for lying on his financial disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in gifts, including renovations of his Girdwood home. The gifts came from Bill Allen, chief of the oilfield services company Veco Corp. and the man at the center of the still-unfolding federal investigation into corruption in Alaska politics.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young and Gov. Sarah Palin, all Republicans, issued statements congratulating Begich and paying tribute to Stevens' contributions to Alaska.

Begich said today that he hopes to meet soon with Stevens, 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 drilling offshore 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.

Begich, 46, said part of his role is to try to repair Alaska's tarnished image nationally. He said it's necessary to package Alaska's needs in terms of how to help the whole nation.

"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 Peninsula.

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 40.9 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.

Complete Alaska election coverage
Election results: Races statewide
By SEAN COCKERHAM