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Juneau, Alaska

Stevens out: Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, lost his bid for a seventh term this week, falling to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich after a protracted vote count. Stevens, who turned 85 the day the result was announced, was convicted in October for failing to disclose thousands of dollars worth of gifts; he was facing expulsion from the Senate had he prevailed. Begich, who supports gun rights and expanded oil drilling in Alaska’s wilderness areas, becomes the first Alaska Democrat to serve in the Senate since 1980.

Los Angeles

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California burns: Firefighters this week finally gained control of three major wildfires around Los Angeles that have been raging for more than a week, but not before the fires did some of the worst damage in Southern California’s long history of dry-season blazes. “We haven’t seen a fire of this magnitude in decades,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said. The largest fire, covering almost 29,000 acres, destroyed a mobile-home park in Sylmar as well as multimillion-dollar homes in Yorba Linda. “I never thought it would actually happen,” said Kusum Arora, 61, staring at the ruins of her Yorba Linda home. In all, the fires destroyed 842 houses and severely damaged 100 more. Police said one of the fires was apparently sparked by college students who built a bonfire during an outdoor party.

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Evangelical group cuts back: Citing economic hard times, the prominent Christian activist group Focus on the Family this week announced the largest layoffs in its history. Nearly 150 employees, out of a total of 1,150, will lose their jobs at the end of November, while an additional 53 positions will go unfilled. Donations to the organization, founded in 1977 by religious broadcaster James Dobson, have fallen sharply in recent months—a drop-off officials attribute to the recession, not lack of support for its conservative agenda. The group, which spent $500,000 to support a California ballot proposal to outlaw same-sex marriage, will also stop publishing four of its eight magazines.


Dash to the Senate: The last big race of the 2008 campaign is drawing national attention—and national political figures—to Georgia as Republican incumbent Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Democratic challenger Jim Martin face off in a Dec. 2 revote. Defeated GOP presidential standard-bearer John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have campaigned for Chambliss, while former President Bill Clinton this week stumped for Martin. Early voting has already begun in the contest, which became necessary after neither candidate won a majority of the original vote. The Georgia race became more crucial this week after a Democrat was declared the winner in the Alaska Senate race, putting Democrats just two seats shy of the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster. In the one other remaining Senate contest, a recount began this week in the Minnesota Senate race between Democrat Al Franken and incumbent Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

Greenville, S.C.

Sinful votes? A Roman Catholic priest last week told parishioners who voted for Barack Obama that they could not take Communion until they did penance. Obama supporters, said the Rev. Jay Scott Newman, pastor of Greenville’s St. Mary’s Church, “drink and eat their own condemnation” for supporting a candidate who favors abortion rights. The remarks drew a swift rebuke from Monsignor Martin Laughlin, the highest-ranking church official in South Carolina. “Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings,” Laughlin said. This isn’t the first time Catholic clergy have weighed in on presidential politics. In 2004, several priests said publicly that Democratic candidate John Kerry, a Catholic, should be denied the sacrament for his support of abortion rights.

Washington, D.C.

Gulf syndrome real: Gulf War syndrome, a condition marked by fatigue, neurological damage, and respiratory problems, is legitimate and different from post-combat stress disorder, a congressional advisory panel said this week. More than 175,000 veterans of the 1991 Gulf War may suffer from the syndrome, which the panel says was likely caused by exposure to chemical toxins. “Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans,” said the committee, which is composed of veterans as well as independent scientists. Many Gulf War veterans have complained that the government hasn’t taken their complaints seriously. The commission urged Washington to spend $50 million a year to study the syndrome.

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