ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich claimed victory on Tuesday as the first Democrat elected to Congress by Alaska in more than a quarter of a century, unseating powerful Sen. Ted Stevens who was convicted last month of corruption after decades in the U.S. Senate.
Begich, 46, dubbed the "Boy Mayor" for his youthful looks, led a tight race by fewer than 4,000 ballots with nearly all votes counted, a win which brings Democrats one step closer to a Senate supermajority capable of passing legislation over Republican procedural hurdles.
Two other Senate races hang in the balance and Stevens, who had not commented on the unofficial results by late Tuesday, could call for a recount.
"People are ready for a change," Begich, known as a hard-working pragmatist, said on local television. "We recognize the service of Sen. Ted Stevens, but we also recognize that the future is ahead of us."
Stevens, who turned 85 on Tuesday, was the longest-serving Republican in the Senate with 40 years in office, and many Alaskans supported him even after his conviction.
"Vote for Ted until he's Dead," one bumper sticker read. He once held extraordinary influence as the veteran chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee before the Republicans lost their majority in the chamber two years ago.
As a holder of the purse strings -- perhaps the most unassailable source of U.S. congressional power -- Stevens was known for his grouchy demeanor, the "Incredible Hulk" tie he wore when negotiations turned tough, and for steering billions of dollars in federal spending to Alaska.
He was convicted last month of seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms by failing to report more than $250,000 in home improvements and other gifts from an oil executive and now faces up to 35 years in prison.
A move to oust Stevens from the Senate Republican conference was abruptly postponed on Tuesday, pending results of the vote.
Begich is the son of a former Congressman, Nick Begich, who died in a 1972 plane crash, the wreckage of which was never found. The younger Begich skipped college to work in politics as a driver for the mayor of Anchorage, the city with 40 percent of Alaska's population which he later headed.
A couple of thousand overseas ballots in the Alaska Senate race could arrive on Wednesday, but that would not be enough to change the results.
TWO MORE UNDECIDED RACES
Not counting Begich, Democrats have gained six seats to boost their majority in the 100-member Senate to 57 in the November 4 elections.
If the Alaska results are certified and the Democrats pick up two other seats still undecided in tight races, for the first time in three decades they would have a majority of 60 -- big enough to pass legislation over Republican procedural hurdles.
The race in Georgia is headed for a December 2 runoff. A recount is planned in Minnesota with results expected next month.
Stevens bristled when asked whether his conviction was hurting the Republican Party, which has been buffeted by corruption cases over the past few years.
"This is not a corruption case," he said, adding it was a case involving "a failure to disclose" gifts.
If Stevens had won re-election, but lost his appeal, he appeared certain to be expelled from the Senate where both Democrats and Republicans have voiced support for such action.
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