WASHINGTON — Wasting no time to separate their campaign from the "corruption and insider dealing that has become so pervasive in our nation's capital," Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, called Tuesday on their fellow Republican, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, to step down from the Senate.
A jury in Washington convicted Stevens, 84, on Monday of failing to report thousands of dollars in freebies, including renovations that doubled the size of his home. Stevens has vowed to appeal the seven felony convictions and press on with his own re-election campaign in the week leading up to next Tuesday's election over the objections of some fellow senators.
"It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down," McCain said. "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."
Palin called on Stevens to step aside even if he's re-elected next week, when he faces Democratic Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Polls have been finding that race in a dead heat, although Stevens' conviction is so new to Alaskans that there's almost no telling yet how voters will react on Election Day.
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"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," Palin said in a statement. "He has not done so. Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service but the time has come for him to step aside."
It's a move away from her first statement hours after Monday's verdict, in which she called Stevens' conviction "a sad day" for Alaska but stopped short of demanding that he resign.
The McCain-Palin ticket joined a growing call for the Alaska Republican to step down. McCain's close friend and frequent campaign companion, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, also asked for Stevens to resign and "pursue his legal rights as a private citizen." He was joined by fellow Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who faces a competitive race against comedian Al Franken, and Gordon Smith of Oregon, who's also in a competitive race.
The Democratic presidential ticket weighed in, too, with Barack Obama calling for Stevens to resign.
"Yesterday's ruling wasn't just a verdict on Senator Stevens, but on the broken politics that has infected Washington for decades," Obama said. "It's time to put an end to the corruption and influence-peddling, restore openness and accountability, and finally put government back in the hands of the people it serves."
If Stevens were to be re-elected, he could face expulsion by his fellow senators. Expulsion from the Senate requires a two-thirds vote, and has never happened. Senators who are facing expulsion usually resign or are voted out before their colleagues act, although they have limited practice at it: Stevens is only the fifth sitting U.S. senator to be convicted of such a serious crime.
If Stevens were to resign or be expelled by his colleagues, Palin has a potential — and complicated — role in choosing a replacement. No one in Alaska can say for sure how it would work because the state's law on senatorial succession was changed twice in 2004, once by the Legislature and once by a ballot initiative pushed through by Alaska voters who were upset with how a 2002 vacancy had been handled.
The laws were changed after then-Gov. Frank Murkowski's 2002 appointment of his daughter, Republican Lisa Murkowski, to his vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Both the 2004 laws call for a special election within 60 to 90 days of the vacancy. However, they disagree on whether the governor appoints an interim senator in the meantime. The Alaska Supreme Court ultimately would have to decide which law the state follows.
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