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Ted Stevens indictment clearly puts his Alaska Senate seat in play

July 29, 2008 | 11:18 am

Led by the ever-feisty Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New Yorker who heads the committee devoted to electing more and more Democrats to the Senate, party chieftains had been insisting that Alaska -- normally a solid Republican state -- was a prime pickup possibility for them this year.

That obviously became the case today, with the federal indictment on corruption charges of the venerable Ted Stevens, the Republican who first assumed his Senate seat by appointment in December, 1968 and quickly became politically invincible. See news video below.

Veteran Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska has been indicted on federal corruption charges

Not to make too fine a point of it, but this whole investigation actually resulted from a Times investigative story by Chuck Neubauer and Richard Cooper back in 2003.

Stevens' standing has suffered over the last couple of years, however, as he became ensnared in an ongoing and exhaustive federal probe of wrongdoing by a raft of Alaskan politicians (detailed in this overview by the Anchorage Daily News).

Nationally, he also was targeted for criticism from government watchdog groups and others for his advocacy of federal funding for what was known as the "bridge to nowhere" -- a proposed project in his home state that, as CNN noted, emerged as a "symbol of federal pork-barrel spending."

If the 84-year-old Stevens persists in trying to hold onto his political career, his immediate challenge will be winning the GOP Senate primary on Aug. 26 -- a contest that in the past has been a mere formality for him.

Now, he'll be fighting the gale winds of an extensive Department of Justice probe that concluded, as the Associated Press reports, that during the last several years, he illegally concealed “his continuing receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of things of value from a private corporation.”

The Associated Press story said the items included home improvements to his vacation home in Alaska, "including a new first floor, garage, wraparound deck, plumbing, electrical wiring." Our colleagues over at the Swamp have their own take here.

In short, the type of perks and privileges that won't sit well with the average voter.

Whoever triumphs in next month's primary will face -- for Alaska -- an unusually strong Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

The last Democrat to represent Alaska in the Senate (from either party, the state's total number of senators since it joined the union in 1959 is only six), was the fellow who in this campaign cycle tried unsuccessfully to roil the Democratic presidential primary -- Mike Gravel.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Getty Images

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