Ted Stevens may face ouster from GOP Senate caucus

WASHINGTON -- Already battling a felony conviction, Alaska's legendary Republican Sen. Ted Stevens faces a tough week that places his 40-year Senate career in more immediate jeopardy.

Alaska elections officials on Tuesday plan to be finished counting the votes in Stevens' bid for re-election to an eighth term. The latest tally shows Stevens trailing Democrat Mark Begich by 814 votes, and nearly 40,000 more absentee, early and provisional ballots are still to be counted. Stevens held a lead of more than 3,200 votes after an initial count of votes cast on Election Day.

While Stevens' lead disappeared, Republican Rep. Don Young captured enough votes to be declared the winner Thursday morning by the Associated Press in his re-election battle. Young also had been vulnerable because he is under investigation in the same corruption probe that led to Stevens' conviction.

Also next week, Stevens' GOP colleagues in the Senate may consider whether to kick the Senate's longest-serving Republican out of their caucus. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., will demand the vote on Tuesday even if the Alaska race remains undecided or headed for a recount, spokesman Wesley Denton said Thursday.

"It's important for Republicans to show that we are going to demand a high standard of ethics," Denton said.

Ejecting Stevens from the Republican Senate caucus would strip him of his committee assignments and prevent him from voting on GOP leadership and policies. If Stevens loses the election, the caucus expulsion would only affect him during the current lame-duck session to consider economic recovery proposals.

Losing the election or his caucus membership would be the latest setback for Stevens. Eight days before the election, a federal jury in Washington convicted Stevens of lying on financial disclosure forms to conceal more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts. Stevens plans an appeal. The senator faces 35 years in prison, although federal judges have broad discretion in imposing sentences. No sentencing date has been set.

David Dittman, an Alaska pollster who did polling for Stevens this year, said he expects Begich to win. Stevens gained a surge in voter support after returning to Alaska in the week before the election, but most early and absentee ballots were cast before then, Dittman said.

Begich was optimistic in a radio appearance Thursday. "We're feeling like the trend is in the right direction," he said.

Stevens' campaign spokesman Aaron Saunders did not respond to messages Thursday.

Election workers will count about 25,000 ballots today and the remaining 15,000 Tuesday, Alaska elections director Gail Fenumiai said. The election results should be certified by Dec. 1, she said. Alaska law then provides five days for a recount request.

A Stevens' loss would eliminate any chance of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin seeking the Senate seat in a special election, which would be called if Stevens were expelled or resigned. The former GOP vice presidential nominee has said she would not rule out running.