Alaska-based GOP pollster David Dittman, who worked for Sen. Ted Stevens during this year's primary race, believes Democratic challenger Mark Begich is all but certain to expand his current razor-thin lead and snatch the seat.
"I don't think Stevens can come back," Dittman said, noting that he thinks the remaining trove of uncounted ballots will help Begich "increase his lead."
Even if Begich's advantage grows, however, Dittman believes it's highly unlikely that Stevens will concede the race until every last ballot is counted. "He's probably waiting in Washington," Dittman said. "I haven't talked to him since the evening of the election, when I called and just told him I was sorry for the way it turned out."
Dittman believes early and absentee ballots, which comprise the approximately 40,000 votes left to count, will likely reflect Begichs' overall advantage so far among those who took advantage of either process. Heavy early voting occurred in the period that directly followed Stevens' conviction on seven felony counts of making false statements on his Senate financial disclosure forms.
But as details of alleged prosecutorial misconduct and strange juror behavior began to leak out, Dittman says his own private polling showed a slight up-tick in regard for Stevens over the last weekend before election day. "I think Alaskans began to wonder that maybe this was a kangaroo court, maybe the Senator was not guilty, and so they came to be much more sympathetic. ... That's why we had outcome on election day. But now we're counting votes cast prior to that."
As for what Stevens will face when he returns after the loss Dittman is predicting, the pollster said, "it's not a case where he'll be in disgrace, in my opinion." Responding to one of the many rumors regarding fallout from the long-time Senator's legal predicament, Dittman said Stevens might not even accept a pardon from President George W. Bush, were one offered.
"I don't even know if he would accept a pardon," Dittman said. "On the one hand, it would be deserved, in the sense that he shouldn't have been [convicted]. But a pardon also has some connotation of guilt. I do feel certain, though, that he is gonna fight [the conviction] and go through the appeals process."
Overall, in Alaska, Dittman predicted that Stevens will remain revered in the state as a man "who did a lot of good."
"In spite of appearances, he doesn't have a dishonest bone in his body." Regarding the $250,000 of renovations on his house provided by a campaign contributor, Dittman said: "In his mind, they weren't gifts. They were things he didn't ask for, didn't want, and didn't expect. But it's hard not to be appreciative. ... If someone gives you a book or scarf for Christmas or your birthday, even if you don't read it or wear it, you're still not gonna tell people who gave it to you to get our of your life. The reality is so different from the national perception. And most Alaskans recognize that."
Dittman noted one other consequence of the Begich victory he expects. "Mayor Begich's win is gonna simplify Sarah Palin's life a lot. It'll take that option [of possibly filling Stevens' Senate seat] off the table. When it's clear that won't be an issue, she can just focus on being a Governor."
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