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ALASKA GOP STUMPS FOR STEVENS

State GOP officials aim to keep his Senate seat in Republican - not necessarily his - hands.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Alaska Republican Party on Tuesday found itself in the awkward position of urging voters to return a convicted felon to the U.S. Senate.

The party is pushing for the re-election of Sen. Ted Stevens, who was convicted on Monday of seven felony counts but continues his campaign for a seventh full term, in the hope that his re-election would allow Republicans to hold onto his seat even if Stevens eventually resigns.

Under that chain of events, a special election would be held later to replace Stevens, giving the party the chance to find a new candidate and keep the seat out of Democratic hands.

"That's the reality," said McHugh Pierre, a party spokesman. "Unfortunately, the situation's the situation."

After he was indicted in July on seven counts of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations, Stevens requested a speedy trial, saying he wanted a verdict before Election Day, to clear his name.

Instead, Stevens' decision to stay in the race and seek a speedy trial, and his state party's decision to support him in those efforts, have put both the senator and the party on treacherous terrain a week before voters choose between him and a strong Democratic challenger, Mayor Mark Begich of Anchorage.

In Washington, Republican leaders in the Senate have abandoned Stevens, as did the party's presidential ticket on Tuesday.

Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, called Tuesday for Stevens to resign, as did his vice presidential running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, whose relationship with Stevens is not close.

"After being found guilty on seven felony counts, I had hoped Sen. Stevens would take the opportunity to do the statesmanlike thing and erase the cloud that is covering his Senate seat," Palin said in a statement released by the campaign. "He has not done so. Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service, but the time has come for him to step aside."

Palin also made a direct reference to the hope that Republicans in Alaska are clinging to and is being raised on talk radio here. "Even if elected on Tuesday," she said, "Sen. Stevens should step aside to allow a special election to give Alaskans a real choice of who will serve them in Congress."

Pierre said, "If there's going to be any opportunity for people to vote for a conservative candidate in the future, people have to vote for Stevens now. Otherwise, we have Mark Begich. We want folks to remember that Alaska can't afford to have a Democratic supermajority in the Senate."

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