Assuming an air of martyrdom, the Republican Party is trying to overturn the results of two 2008 senatorial elections, but is going to end up as a laughingstock.

The first case is that of former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who was defeated by Democrat Mark Begich by a very small margin, two weeks after being convicted of providing false information in a corruption investigation. Stevens had been investigated for supposedly accepting discounted work on his home from a politically “wired” contractor. When he was found guilty, figures in both major parties, including John McCain, called for him to resign.

Attorney General Eric Holder has decided not to continue prosecuting Stevens, who had demanded a new trial. According to press reports, Holder was incensed because he found that prosecutors in the case had illegally withheld some key evidence from the defense.

Now the head of the Republican Party in Alaska Randy Ruedrich and Alaska Governor and former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin are hinting that the prosecution of Stevens was a dastardly plot by the prosecutors to smear his reputation just before the election and thus manipulate the results against him.

They demand that Sen. Begich step down and a new election be held. They make it sound as if the prosecution of Stevens was a Democratic Party plot to get their man in. Ruedrich is quoted by Fox News as saying “the only reason Mark Begich won the election in November was that a few thousand Alaskans thought that Sen. Ted Stevens was guilty of severe felonies. Sen. Stevens has maintained his innocence and now, even, the Department of Justice acknowledges its wrongdoing.’

But Stevens was prosecuted by the Republican Bush administration. The prosecution began in July 2008, before Aug. 27 primary in which Stevens handily defeated six GOP rivals, so any manipulating that went on might well have been within the Republican Party.

And why should the Bush Justice Department have worked for a Democratic victory?

To ask Democrat Begich to step down because of prosecutorial misconduct in the Bush Justice Department is laughable. Besides, it fails the “one set of rules for all” test. In the many cases in which Democratic Party candidates have lost by small margins after being smeared and slimed by the GOP with all sorts of last minute whispering campaigns, should the incumbents now resign and a new election be called? That’s not realistic politics.

Holder acted with integrity in dropping the prosecution of Stevens, even though, long before this prosecution, Stevens had become a standing joke nationally because of his reputation as a sleazy hustler (the “bridge to nowhere” and so forth).

In fact, the issue of prosecutorial misconduct and specifically of prosecutors concealing evidence from the defense is a national scandal, though the victims are usually poor and minority people and not senators.

The situation in Minnesota is slightly different, but has points in common. In November, the first count of votes gave incumbent GOP Senator Norm Coleman a slight margin over Democratic challenger Al Franken. But Minnesota law requires a recount when the results are so close, and as the recount has proceeded Franken has pulled slightly ahead, by 215 votes.

Coleman’s challenge of the rejection of absentee ballots and other matters has now been ruled on by the Minnesota Elections Court: They are allowing only 400 contested ballots to be reviewed, most likely not enough to overturn Franken’s margin. The GOP is hinting at going all the way to the Supreme Court with challenges, which would leave Minnesota with only half its senate delegation for weeks or months more.

The real issue here is that, although the Democrats have a majority in both Houses of Congress, they do not have the 60 votes in the Senate that would allow them to stop a filibuster and get to a vote on a bill without rounding up at least one Republican.

The Democrats now have 56 Senate seats to the Republicans’ 41, and there are two independents who are more likely to vote with the Democrats. If Franken is declared the winner in Minnesota, the Democrats and independents will have 59 seats, and will have to win over only one Republican for hard fought legislation such as the Employee Free Choice Act. But if the Minnesota seat goes to Coleman and somehow the Republicans recapture the Alaska seat, the Democrats will be 3 votes short.

That is the real name of the game.

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