WASHINGTON — If Republicans in the U.S. Senate ever secretly hoped for one of their own to lose an election, it might be Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who's in a cliffhanger of a race to keep his seat with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
This week, Stevens, who was convicted on corruption charges last month, will return to the Senate for what may be the most uncomfortable vote of not only his career, but that of his fellow Republican senators. They are to be asked Tuesday to decide in a secret, behind-closed-doors vote, whether to oust the 40-year veteran senator from the Senate's Republican conference, stripping him of his committee assignments and ending his vote on party matters.
Stevens has already been forced by Republican rules to step down as the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee and on an Appropriations subcommittee.
It will be a frosty return for Stevens, who during the congressional recess was convicted in federal court of lying on his financial disclosure forms and now appears in danger of losing his seat to Begich.
Many of his Republican colleagues returning for the brief lame-duck session say they are uncomfortable with the thought of a convicted felon serving in their midst, given the losses the GOP has posted in the past two elections.
"I think it would be very difficult, as a convicted felon, that he should remain in the conference," Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., said last week. "The Republican Party needs to send a signal that we are at a moment in time where we are not to tolerate that. … I think a convicted felon is pretty inconsistent with serving in the U.S. Senate."
Martinez added that he needs to hear from Stevens first before he decides how he would vote. While the vote is on Tuesday's agenda, it's not clear whether it will even take place. Begich has been pulling ahead in the count, perhaps making the vote a moot point, said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.