ANCHORAGE — Sen. Ted Stevens conceded the election for U.S. Senate to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich on Wednesday, bringing to an end his 40 years as the dominant force in Alaska politics and the longest-serving Republican in Senate history.
Stevens' office issued a written statement congratulating Begich, a Democrat who ran as a change candidate in the face of federal ethics charges against the man many Alaskans call "Uncle Ted."
"Given the number of ballots that remain to be counted," Stevens' satement said, "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. "
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A week before the election, a Washington, D.C., jury convicted the 85-year-old 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 contracting and construction company at the center of the broad and still-unfolding federal investigation into corruption in Alaska politics.
Begich, 46, 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 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.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young and Gov. Sarah Palin, all Republicans, issued statements congratulating Begich and paying tribute to Stevens' contributions to Alaska. Palin described Begich's election as part of "a new era for Alaska."
Begich, a former city assemblyman completing his second term as mayor of Alaska's largest city, is the son of former Alaska U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, who disappeared in plane over Alaska in 1972 with then-House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana and two others.
Begich told reporters Wednesday 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 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.
Begich said part of his role is to try and 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.