WASHINGTON – A day after he was convicted of seven felonies, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, came under increasing pressure from top Republicans to resign, even as he planned to resume campaigning for his seat today.
The unfolding events led to speculation in political and legal circles about whether Stevens would face prison time and whether President Bush might pardon him or commute his sentence.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the party’s presidential nominee, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s running mate, said Stevens must resign because of his conviction for concealing the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his house in Girdwood, Alaska.
“It is clear that Sen. Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down,” McCain said.
Palin left open the possibility that Stevens could stand for re-election Tuesday and then resign. “Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service, but the time has come for him to step aside. Even if elected on Tuesday, Sen. Stevens should step aside to allow a special election to give Alaskans a real choice of who will serve them in Congress,” she said.
The Senate’s Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, told reporters that Stevens should resign or face expulsion from the Senate. “If he is re-elected and the felony charge stands through the appeals process, there is zero chance that a senator with a felony conviction would not be expelled from the Senate,” he told the Associated Press while campaigning in Kentucky.
But Stevens, 84, dug in for the final days of his difficult re-election contest, and the Alaska Republican Party began urging voters to back him while suggesting that he might not serve out the term.
While the odds of a convicted felon winning re-election seem long, Stevens is considered a heroic figure in Alaska. Throughout the five-week trial, polls showed Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich’s lead over Stevens dwindling. The race had narrowed to a near-deadlock by the time Stevens was convicted Monday.