Image: Stevens and Murkowski
Al Grillo  /  AP
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska,, left, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska watch election results at Stevens' campaign headquarters in Anchorage on Tuesday.
updated 8/27/2008 4:56:54 AM ET 2008-08-27T08:56:54

Alaska Republicans gave U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, currently facing a federal indictment, a primary victory on Tuesday.

It sets up a November election race with possibly the toughest opponent Stevens has ever faced in his 40 years in public office, squaring off against popular Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

Stevens won his primary with 63 percent of the vote. Begich easily won his Democratic primary over two minor challengers with 91 percent of the vote.

Trial starts next month
A loud crowd of 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 his glasses and said, "Looks good to me," before flashing a huge grin.

Begich, for his part, and a throng of his sign-carrying supporters walked to the city's convention center. "It's clear to me people want new ideas," Begich said.

Stevens faces trial next month on seven felony charges, and political analysts say these primary results could set the tone for the November vote.

Federal prosecutors allege Stevens lied on Senate disclosure reports to conceal more than $250,000 in home renovations and gifts from oil industry executives. He was caught up in a federal investigation of corruption in Alaska politics that has seen three state lawmakers sent to federal prison and two more awaiting trial. All five are Republicans.

Closely-watched Fla. race
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.

The race 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.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, 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.

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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.

Tough challenge seen for Stevens
In Alaska, Stevens has been focused the last few weeks on his re-election campaign, spending time in the state while his lawyers handle the case in Washington. Begich has so far avoided playing the corruption card, saying he prefers to stick with issues such as energy development, health care and education.

Brian Stibitz, of Anchorage, voted for Begich on Tuesday because he likes the way he has "run a tight ship" as mayor.

But he said choosing between Stevens and Begich in November would still be a tough call because he sees the value of Stevens' 40 years of service.

"I'm not a big fan of the prosecution's charges, but I think he's got some ethical issues that put a cloud over him," Stibitz said. "So, I'd probably go with Begich."

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