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Murkowski Surges in Alaska

The incumbent was holding off rivals in the GOP primary. The winner will probably face ex-Gov. Knowles.

August 25, 2004|From Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed to the Senate by her father and had never run in a statewide election, took an early lead Tuesday night in the Republican primary.

With 210 of 439 precincts reporting, Murkowski had 57% of the vote, leading former state Senate President Mike Miller by 24,225 votes to 16,786 votes. Wev Shea, former U.S. attorney for Alaska, was in third place with 1,443 votes.

The Republican winner will likely take on former two-term Gov. Tony Knowles, a popular Democrat whose presence in the race has transformed heavily Republican Alaska into an unlikely battleground in the fight for control of the Senate.

Knowles faced token opposition Tuesday. The former governor received 95% of the vote in the early going, outdistancing Don Wright, a 72-year-old retiree and former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Murkowski is a former state lawmaker who was appointed to the Senate in 2002 by her father, newly elected Gov. Frank Murkowski.

He gave his seat to his daughter after the Legislature changed state law to allow the new governor and not the incumbent -- Knowles in this case -- to fill Senate vacancies.

Murkowski's challengers have made nepotism an issue in the race, along with attacking her credentials as a conservative.

Miller, 53, claimed that before joining the Senate, Murkowski backed gun control, abortion rights and tax increases.

Knowles, 61, and Murkowski, 47, are two of the biggest political names in Alaska.

Knowles was mayor of Anchorage for six years in the 1980s and was governor from 1994 to 2002.

Murkowski served in the Legislature for four years before being appointed to the Senate.

The debate over opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling became a prominent issue in the race. Most Alaskans support opening the refuge, and both Knowles and Murkowski back drilling.

Murkowski has been endorsed by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who made a campaign appearance in Anchorage. She's also gotten the support of Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens, who called her "a hell of a lot better senator than her dad ever was."

Money has steadily filled her war chest since she began campaigning in January 2003. She had raised $3.75 million through Aug. 4.

No major polling has been done in the race, but informal polls have shown Murkowski with a wide lead over Miller.

Shea entered the race after Murkowski and Miller refused to speak out against the state's GOP chairman, who had paid a fine for ethics violations.

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