From Sean Cockerham in Anchorage --
Ted Stevens was in Anchorage this morning for the first time since his indictment. He held a rally at his campaign headquarters, giving a speech to a friendly crowd, enthusiastic supporters tipped off to the event over the weekend.
"I am innocent of the case that's been made against me, the charges that have been made against me," Stevens told his supporters. "But the way this case has been handled by the judge has renewed my confidence in our constitutional judicial system I believe it will vindicate me... I was so confident of that that my lawyer on my behalf asked for a speedy trial so the case would be over before the general election."
"By scheduling the trial for next month this court has made it possible for all Alaskans to know the facts of the case and make up their own mind. They will be the ultimate jury before they cast their votes in November," Stevens said.
Stevens' trial is tentatively set for Sept. 24 in Washington. D.C.
Stevens said the immediate focus has to be on the Aug. 26 Republican primary.
"The primary is the goal right now. Help me win that primary and help me be the candidate for the Republican party. September will take care of itself," Stevens told the crowd.
Stevens said last Tuesday (the day of his indictment) "was one of the most difficult days of my life and I know it was hard for some of you too. Let me tell you my spirits are high and I hope yours remains so too."
Stevens arrived from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport with an escort of leather-clad bikers who'd apparently volunteered to help him make an entrance. More than 100 people were at his campaign rally, including Bob Penney, Carl Marrs, George Wuerch, Don Smith and Bill Sheffield.
Stevens wouldn't take any questions from reporters after the speech.
He said he was leaving after the rally for Fairbanks, to be there when President Bush gives a speech to troops at Eielson Air Force Base.
Stevens said he'd be back in Anchorage tonight and plans to spend the next few days in the state campaigning with his longtime friend, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Dan Inouye. The senators have at least one fundraiser scheduled for this week.