“His reelection could be very damaging,” Heritage Senate Relations Director Brian Darling said. “Having a Republican who is the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee who has been convicted of seven felonies is damaging to the Republican Party brand.”
Stevens, who is trying to win his seventh term in Congress, was convicted Oct. 27 in federal court on charges of failing to properly report gifts worth more than $250,000.
Darling added that Stevens is “putting Republicans in a very difficult situation.”
“You are having constant Republican ethical scandals,” Darling said. “I don’t think anyone could argue that these continuing scandals are not harming Republicans as a whole.”
Before Tuesday, Stevens lagged in the polls by four to seven points. But in a close election, where ballots are still being tallied, the longest-serving member of the Senate is currently holding on to a 3,000 vote edge over his Democratic opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
The rules of the Senate do not forbid convicted felons from serving.
Stevens, who maintains his innocence, is preparing to appeal the court’s decision, calling it “a great injustice” that “legal scholars (will) study for years for the breadth of its injustice.”
However, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), along with other Republicans, have called on Stevens to resign – even if he wins.
"If Stevens is re-elected and the felony charge stands through the appeals process, there is zero chance that a senator with a felony conviction would not be expelled from the Senate,” McConnell said in a recent statement.
Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agree.
“As precedent shows us, Senator Stevens will face an ethics committee investigation and expulsion, regardless of his appeals process,” Reid said in a statement issued on Saturday.
If Stevens does resign – or is expelled – from the Senate, it is unclear what will happen immediately to Alaska’s Senate seat.
In most states, the governor can appoint a senator to finish out an unexpired term, but in 2004, Alaskans passed a ballot initiative that bars the governor from naming interim senators because many were angered over Gov. Murkowski’s appointment of his daughter to the Senate in 2002.
But some legal scholars say that the Alaska initiative would contradict the 17th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which grants state legislators the power to give governors their choice of senators in the case of resignation or expulsion.
The amendment says: “Provided, that the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.”
If the courts rule that the initiative does indeed contradict the constitution, Gov. Palin could appoint an interim senator until a special election was held, which, according the Alaskan constitution, must take place within 60 to 90 days of the resignation or expulsion.