Indictments don't spoil Stevens' re-election bid

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - August 27, 2008 That's despite some major hurdles Stevens faces in the next few months.

Stevens has a September trial that will keep him off the campaign trail for weeks, and he's up against his toughest opponent in his 40 years in office: popular Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

Stevens won the race Tuesday with 63 percent of the vote, beating six other opponents, including his closest competitor Dave Cuddy by more than 35 percentage points.

Begich easily won the Democratic primary over two minor challengers with 91 percent of the vote.

In Florida, meanwhile, Tom Rooney, a lawyer and former Army officer won a tight three-way Republican primary to compete in November for the office once held by disgraced Rep. Mark Foley.

Most everyone expected a Stevens-Begich matchup in the general election, but some questioned whether the indictment would cost Stevens votes in the GOP race.

In last month's indictment, federal prosecutors allege Stevens lied on Senate disclosure reports to conceal more than $250,000 in home renovations and gifts from executives at oil services contractor VECO Corp.

Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, has pleaded not guilty, and his trial in Washington starts Sept. 22.

That means he will spend weeks off the campaign trail, leaving the state largely to Begich.

Even so, Stevens doesn't seem worried.

"I'm doing my job," he said. "Alaskans trust me. This is still a Republican state."

Supporters gathered at Stevens' headquarters, and set off a loud cheer when the first results were announced. When they were posted, Stevens walked closer to the big screen television, adjusted a new pair of eyeglasses and said, "Looks good to me," before flashing a huge grin.

"The fight's on," Stevens said after his win. "I've got the troops behind me."

Begich has refused to bring corruption into the campaign, saying those are Stevens' challenges. Instead, he says he's trying to focus on issues like energy development, health care and education.

"A new style of leadership is needed in the U.S. Senate. People see the need. People like the new ideas. We need to look at the issues as Alaskans, as Americans," he said.

Stevens was ensnared in a federal corruption investigation of Alaska politics that has seen three state lawmakers sent to federal prison and two more awaiting trial. All five are Republicans.

One voter, Thor Evenson of Anchorage, said he backed Begich simply because he's a Democrat.

"Right now I don't trust the Republicans, especially at the local level," Evenson said. "It's not an intuitive thing. There are people who have been convicted in federal court."

But another voter, Noel Janda of Anchorage, said he trusts Stevens, calling him a man who is "strictly business" and good for Alaska.

"I don't see anybody out there who is better," Janda said. "We need him in Washington. I don't think we can afford to lose him there."

The race in Florida had been closely watched nationally as Republicans try to take back the congressional seat lost after Foley resigned amid reports he sent lurid messages to teenage male congressional pages.

Rooney captured 37 percent of the vote and state Rep. Gayle Harrell came in second with 35 percent. Rooney will now face Democrat Rep. Tim Mahoney.

Election officials reported light turnout for Florida's primary, which featured no statewide races and few local and legislative races that have drawn intense interest.

Republicans consider Foley's old district, which extends from Palm Beach County across the state to Charlotte County on the Gulf coast, their only chance to boot a sitting Democrat. Mahoney barely beat the Republicans' last-minute replacement for Foley there two years ago.

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