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Analysis: Stevens Indicted in Alaska

UPDATE, 5:45 pm: Sen.Ted Stevens, at least for today, is pledging to continue his re-election campaign despite his indictment by a federal grand jury. The campaign is moving "full steam ahead," said spokesman Aaron Saunders. "Our office has been flooded today with calls and emails from supporters urging the Senator to press on. The message from them is clear: Alaska needs Ted Stevens in the U.S. Senate."

Stevens remaining in the race is the nightmare scenario for Senate Republicans. He has already been badly wounded by the ongoing investigation and now that his role in the pay to play scandal has been formally alleged, it's hard to see Stevens turning around public perception in time for the fall election.

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, Stevens' almost certain general election foe, went for disappointment rather than anger in his statement -- echoing a tried and true parenting tactic.

"The indictment of Senator Ted Stevens is a sad day for Alaska and for the senator after his 40 years of service to our state," said Begich. "The people of Alaska are resilient and strong. I have great faith in our state and our people, and we will continue to move forward."

ORIGINAL POST

Sen. Ted Stevens has been indicted on seven criminal counts by a federal grand jury, action that comes after months of speculation about the Alaska Republican's legal predicament and that drastically alters his bid for re-election this fall.

Stevens has long been under an ethics cloud in connection with an influence-peddling scheme by an oil and gas company named Veco. The federal investigation has ensnared a number of Republican officials and led federal agents to raid Stevens' Alaska home last summer. Contractors have said a major renovation of Stevens' home was overseen by Veco officials.

The Post's Paul "PK" Kane and Carrie Johnson are hot on the trail of the news, but here at The Fix we aim to bring you the political implications of this story.

"Clearly it changes the political landscape," said former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) moments ago during an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell -- in what should be regarded as the understatement of the century.

Stevens was in real trouble before the indictment came down and is in even more trouble now. A series of public polls released over the last few months showed Stevens trailing Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a reflection of the damage the ongoing Veco investigation has done to Stevens' political profile.

Begich has focused his television advertising on the need to clean up politics in Alaska with his latest ad showing politicians going through a car wash to get clean.

Much now depends on what Stevens will do in the face of this indictment. He and his campaign team had been absolutely resolute that he would run for re-election this November under any circumstances.

An indictment hanging over his head could well change that calculus -- especially if the national party makes clear it would rather have someone other than Stevens on the ticket. While Stevens could still fight on, donations to his campaign could well dry up, making it tough for him to run the sort of campaign he must in order to beat Begich.

The filing deadline in Alaska has already passed and Stevens is one of six candidates competing for the GOP nod in the state's Aug. 26 primary.

And, judging from Alaska election law, Stevens has already passed the deadline to remove his name from the primary ballot -- 48 days before the voting.

Assuming that's right, Republicans are in a pickle. The best possible scenario could well be for Stevens to win the GOP primary and then step aside -- a move that would conceiveably allow the party to replace him with a candidate of their choice for the general election. If anyone other than Stevens win the primary on Aug. 26, Republicans seem likely to be stuck with a second tier (at best) candidate against the well-funded and well-known Begich.

Regardless whether Stevens soldiers on with his bid or steps aside, Republicans' chances of holding his seat grew more dim with the news of his indictment.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 29, 2008; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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