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Inside Politics

Stevens leads fight for oil drilling

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

Ted Stevens
Russell Feingold

(CNN) -- We call it the Play of the Week but for one senator, it was the play of a political lifetime.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has been at this a long time, as he acknowledged a week ago.

"I'm seriously depressed, unfortunately, clinically depressed," said Stevens. "And I've been told that [it's] because I've been at this too long."

It's the fight to allow oil drilling in a portion of ANWR, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

When the issue of opening ANWR last came up for a Senate vote in 2003, it lost by four votes.

Stevens took it personally saying, "People who vote against this today are voting against me. And I'll never forget it."

This week, wearing the same Incredible Hulk necktie he wears for major congressional battles, Stevens celebrated a different outcome -- a two-vote margin of victory. Again, Stevens took it personally.

"It's as important to me as the first step that Armstrong took when he stepped off on the moon," Stevens said this week.

The Senate voted to keep ANWR oil revenues in the budget, which means the vote on oil drilling cannot be filibustered. Democrats cried foul.

"This is a back-door scheme for drilling, because the drilling proponents don't have enough votes to deal with the issue in the energy bill," Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wisconsin, said.

The fact that oil prices are at a record high may have helped get votes for drilling. But Stevens can tell you what really made the difference.

"My friends, it's called an election. We won that election. And we promised to do this when we won that election," Stevens said.

The nine new senators elected last November voted 7 to 2 in favor of drilling. The senators who held those seats in 2003 had voted 5 to 4 against drilling. There's the margin of victory.

Is Stevens still depressed?

"If you went down that same track for 24 years, wouldn't you be a little depressed? I was. I'm backing off of that now," Stevens said .

For this senator, it's a Play of the Week that's been a long time coming.

The battle is not over though. There are more votes yet to come, but they can't be filibustered.

The biggest danger for Stevens is that the budget process itself will collapse, as it often has in recent years. And that will kill the drilling measure.

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