Newly convicted Sen. Ted Stevens is digging in his heels, and this blogger sees no sign of any intent to resign, before or after the election. The man honestly thinks he won’t spend day one in jail; I don’t think he’s capable of envisioning a Senate without him.
National Republicans are abandoning him, the state party is clinging to him, his fellow senators (of both parties) are talking openly about expelling him, and local political experts are still saying he might eke out one final re-election victory.
News developments, analysis, and more wonkery below the break.
AP reports that he is planning a bulldozer of an appeal, beginning with a letter sent by his lawyer to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey demanding that the prosecutor team from his original trial be pulled and replaced, then investigated for misconduct. Put briefly, Stevens and his lawyer are alleging the government withheld witness testimony; see this previous post to see how close they came to a mistrial.
Meanwhile, Republicans everywhere are (wisely) distancing themselves from Stevens. Among the highlighters:
“Yesterday, Senator Ted Stevens was found guilty of corruption. It is a sign of the health of our democracy that the people continue to hold their representatives to account for improper or illegal conduct, but this verdict is also a sign of the corruption and insider-dealing that has become so pervasive in our nation’s capital.”
“It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down. 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.”
“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. He has not done so,” Palin said in a statement released by the campaign this afternoon. “Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service but the time has come for him to step aside.”
Palin added that even if Sen. Stevens is re-elected next Tuesday, he should “step aside to allow a special election to give Alaskans a real choice of who will serve them in Congress.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:
“This is a sad but serious day. Sen. Stevens was found guilty by a jury of his peers and now must face the consequences of those actions. As a result of his conviction, Sen. Stevens will be held accountable so the public trust can be restored.”
Time’s pretty short for any possible appointee names to be floated, as I suggested earlier. Looks like Stevens is going to have to win this race on his own. The Alaska GOP brass appears to agree, as they’re still standing with Stevens as one of the few friends he’s got left.
Thing is, some people in Alaska whose stupidity is not immediately apparent seem to have a far better opinion of his chances than I do:
It would be a mistake to write Stevens’ political obituary with the election still a week away, said Carl Shepro, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. Many Alaskans believe Stevens is being unjustly attacked, he said.
“It’s very possible that he’s going to win the election,” Shepro said.
Polls in Alaska tracking this Senate race mirror the national presidential race fairly closely. Stevens’s opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, is holding Stevens to a statistical dead heat, with the current RealClearPolitics average giving Begich an edge of less than a percentage point. (A note of caution: all of the polls comprising this average were taken pre-conviction.) Weirdly enough, a couple of months ago Begich had a significant advantage in the RCP average, and as the trial has dragged on Stevens has actually managed to tighten that lead to virtually nothing. If he can keep playing this “prosecutorial misconduct” angle and draw on what the aforementioned Prof. Shepro identified as a public perception of persecution, he may squeak by.
One thing, though. (Here’s where the WitSnapper election-dynamics wonk creeps back in.) The Senate, which will almost certainly be even more heavily dominated by Democrats than it is now, may refuse to seat him. It’s entirely possible that they could pull together the two-thirds vote necessary to administer the first successful expulsion of a senator since the Civil War. (Other senators, including Pete Williams (D-NJ) and Bob Packwood (R-OR), have resigned while facing expulsion; still others have survived expulsion votes.)
If Stevens is booted from the Senate by his colleagues, we may still see the scenario played out that I envisioned earlier; i.e. the one ending with Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell succeeding him by appointment. However, Stevens’s determination to ride out the election relieves Gov. Palin of the chore of dangling a palatable appointee like Parnell in front of voters to persuade them to vote indirectly for Parnell for Senate, so Palin may opt simply to leave Parnell where he is, let him assume the governorship, and let him do the appointing. Might as well give Parnell a head-start on the next gubernatorial election.
All of this, of course, depends on who will crawl away with that sliver of undecideds that will put either Stevens or Begich over the top. Prof. Shepro’s hypothesis sounds not entirely absurd; sympathy votes for Stevens might keep him alive.
I’m still unpersuaded. While reliably Republican, Alaska voters have an independent streak which favors the new face. They’re unlikely to wink at multiple corruption convictions, especially now that Gov. Palin has made anti-corruption reform fashionable. Stevens (who hasn’t been a “new face” in decades) has been able to count on them in the past, but as RealClearPolitics points out, he’s never won an election with less than 66% of the vote, and now he’s struggling to stay in the high 40s. Now, with Gov. Palin asking him to step aside, Alaskans may finally decide it’s time for him to retire.