HERSHEY, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, urged fellow Republican Ted Stevens to resign on Tuesday after the Alaska senator was convicted of corruption.
Distancing herself from her former political ally after Monday's verdict, which could help Democrats expand their control of the U.S. Senate in next week's election, Palin called on Stevens to do the "statesman-like thing."
"The time has come for him to step aside. Even if elected on Tuesday, Senator Stevens should step aside to allow a special election to give Alaskans a real choice of who will serve them in Congress," Palin said in a statement.
Stevens, 84, with 40 years of service, is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. He is also one of the most powerful Republicans and used his influence to channel billions in federal spending to his state.
Stevens, who is in a race for re-election, was found guilty on Monday on all seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms to hide more than $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts from an oil executive.
Stevens has called the convictions unjust and said he intends to return to Alaska on Wednesday and resume campaigning against his Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
Over the past decade, Stevens worked closely with Palin during her time as mayor of the Alaskan town of Wasilla and most recently as governor. When the FBI first announced it was investigating Stevens, she urged him to come clean.
In a separate statement, McCain said Stevens had broken the trust of Alaskans and should step down.
"I hope that my colleagues in the Senate will be spurred by these events to redouble their efforts to end this kind of corruption once and for all," he said.
McCain said it was a sign of the "health of our democracy" that Stevens was held to account for his conduct.
"But this verdict is also a sign of the corruption and insider-dealing that has become so pervasive in our nation's capital," he said.
McCain and Palin have cast themselves as maverick reformers who offer Americans their best hope of change, while painting Democratic rival Barack Obama as too inexperienced to tackle the Washington establishment.
In his own comment on the Stevens verdict, Obama said it was also a verdict on "the broken politics that has infected Washington for decades."
"It's time to put an end to the corruption and influence-peddling, restore openness and accountability, and finally put government back in the hands of the people it serves. Senator Stevens should step down," he said.
If Stevens loses the election, that could help Democrats control 60 seats in the 100-seat chamber, enough to overcome potential Republican roadblocks.
The Senate could vote to expel a convicted felon with a two-thirds vote, but no action is expected before next week's election. Since 1789, the Senate has expelled only 15 members.
Stevens was the first sitting senator on trial since 1981.
Reporting by Steve Holland, writing by Ross Colvin; Editing by Cynthia Osterman