Image: Ted Stevens, Mark Begich
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
Despite the well-publicized corruption conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, left, Senate opponent and eventual victor Mark Begich, right, refused to cite Stevens' legal problems as the defining issue in the race.
updated 11/19/2008 2:41:26 PM ET 2008-11-19T19:41:26

Mark Begich had every candidate's fantasy — a seemingly unbeatable opponent who became embroiled in scandal at the height of the campaign.

But Begich repeatedly refused to make an issue of Ted Stevens' corruption trial and didn't even call for him to resign after his conviction.

That unconventional approach proved successful for the 46-year-old mayor, who ended the four-decade reign of the longest-serving Republican in Senate history.

Declared the winner with a 3,724-vote edge early Wednesday, Begich again refused to cite his senior's legal problems as the defining issue in a race that might yet produce a recount.

Alaska voters "wanted to see change," Begich told reporters in Anchorage late Tuesday. "Alaska has been in the midst of a generational shift — you could see it."

Throughout the campaign, Begich treaded lightly on the issue of the 85-year-old Stevens, an iconic figure in Alaska politics known for his ability to bring home the pork. Federal charges accusing him of concealing more than $250,000 in gifts and home improvements from an oil fields services company executive were referred to simply as Stevens' "challenges."

And after last month's conviction on seven felony counts, when even GOP presidential candidate John McCain was calling for Stevens' resignation, Begich said: "That decision needs to be made by Senator Stevens."

Begich may have risen to the Senate through scandal, but his political life has been marked by a tragedy.

His father, Nick Begich, who was Alaska's only congressman in 1972, was killed when his plane disappeared over the Gulf of Alaska with then-House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana.

Video: Stevens loses Senate seat Begich, who was only 10 when his father died, decided not to attend college and went straight to work running his family's 32-unit apartment building business.

"He rode around with a trunk full of tools and did a whole lot of maintenance. ... He got right in there and went to work, and he was very good at it," said his mother, Pegge.

The political bug bit Begich at age 26 when he was elected to the Anchorage Assembly. He served 10 years before he was elected mayor in 2003, erasing a $33 million deficit during his time in office.

"I am a problem solver," Begich said. "I work across party lines."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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