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New York Times - Ted Stevens Receives a Hero's Welcome in Alaska

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Location: Anchorage, AK


New York Times - Ted Stevens Receives a Hero's Welcome in Alaska

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

Two days after he was convicted on seven felony counts in Washington, Senator Ted Stevens returned to Alaska on Wednesday night to begin a six-day campaign sprint, telling several hundred supporters at a rally here that he would be vindicated on appeal and asking them to elect him to a seventh term.

"I will represent Alaska in the senate while my lawyers pursue the appeals to clear my name," Mr. Stevens said.

Mr. Stevens faces a strong re-election challenge from Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage, a Democrat. Even as top Republican leaders have called on Mr. Stevens to resign and many political experts believe his chances of re-election are slim, some people refuse to rule out the possibility of his winning, given his stature here.

The senator, a 40-year incumbent known for delivering billions of dollars of federal money and projects to Alaska, was met in an airplane hangar here on Wednesday night with chants of "We need Ted."

Just two days earlier, he had been convicted of seven counts of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations he received from a wealthy former oil services industry executive, William J. Allen. And before the rally, Mr. Stevens encountered still more pressure to step down.

Several leading Republican senators joined calls for Mr. Stevens to resign. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, was quoted by a newspaper in his home state as saying that "there is a 100 percent certainty" that the senate would vote to expel Mr. Stevens should he win re-election and his appeals fail. Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, have also called on Mr. Stevens to resign.

Mr. Stevens made no reference to those demands on Wednesday, but he spent half of his eight-minute speech criticizing his conviction. He expressed regret but stopped short of apologizing, saying he had been guilty only of naïveté.

"Like most people, I'm not perfect," Mr. Stevens said at one point, before referring to Mr. Allen. "I naïvely trusted someone who I thought was an honest friend, when he was neither honest nor a friend. That naïve trust, however, has put all Alaskans and my family through an ordeal that I deeply regret."

He accused federal prosecutors of being "willing to do anything to win" and he implied that holding his trial in Washington added to its illegitimacy.

"If I had had a fair trial in Alaska, I would have been acquitted," he said to cheers.

He added: "By providing for an appeals process, our founding fathers knew that mistakes could be made and innocent men could be wrongly convicted. This is one of those times."

Supporters in the crowd suggested that the only verdict that matters is the one on Election Day. One person carried a sign saying "Alaska Decides, Not D.C."

Mr. Stevens plans to campaign in Fairbanks during the day on Thursday but will return to Anchorage for a debate with Mr. Begich on Thursday night. It will be the first time Mr. Stevens has appeared in person for a debate with Mr. Begich. In some debates, he has submitted videotaped answers to questions provided in advance while Mr. Begich answered questions in person.

One other legal matter has been settled for Mr. Stevens since his conviction: After questions arose over whether Mr. Stevens could vote because he is now a convicted felon, the Alaska Department of Law on Wednesday concluded that he would retain his voting rights until he received a sentence. His sentencing has not been scheduled.


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