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Alaska Governor: Knowles vs. Murkowski

After months of uncertainty surrounding the Alaska gubernatorial race, all the dominos fell into place over Memorial Day weekend.

Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) decided Friday that he would seek a second term; four days later, former Gov. Tony Knowles (D) said he would challenge Murkowski (Knowles served two terms between 1994 and 2002).

As a result, the two biggest figures in Alaska politics will be on the same stage, creating what should be one of the most intriguing and closely fought contests in the country.

Both men face primary challenges on Aug. 22. Murkowski joins Fairbanks businessman and former state Sen. John Binkley as well as former Wasila Mayor Sarah Palin in the GOP field. Lt. Gov. Loren Leman (R) said Tuesday he will not for governor or seek reelection.

Although Murkowski is considered the early favorite in the primary, he faces multiple challenges. First, he has raised no money for his reelection race. Binkley claims to have collected $500,000 already for his campaign while Palin reported raising $100,000 as of Feb. 1 -- the last time financial reports were due with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. While the incumbent governor should have little trouble raising the money he needs, starting from scratch is not an ideal position with less than three months before Republicans head to the polls.

And if Murkowski's standing in polls is to be believed, he will need a considerable sum to remake his image in the months before the primary. Although we continue to have reservations about automated dialed polls, Survey USA is the best of that bunch and has done a slew of national and Alaska-specific polling that is quite telling.

According to Survey USA results released in mid-May, only 23 percent of Alaskans approve of the job Murkowski is doing compared with 73 percent who disapprove. That 50-point differential is the second worst in the country, behind only Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (18 approve/79 disapprove), who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges related to his failure to report gifts earlier this cycle.

The path looks clearer for Knowles. State Rep. Ethan Berkowitz dropped his candidacy and signed on as the lt. governor candidate on Knowles's ticket. State Rep. Eric Croft is in the race but is not considered a major factor. (The state's filing deadline is tomorrow.)

Knowles is by far the best-known Democrat in the state thanks to his time as governor and his 2004 race against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), who was appointed by her father to fill the Senate seat he gave up after winning the 2002 governor's race. She beat Knowles to win a full term by a 49 percent to 46 percent count, a margin of just more than 9,000 votes.

If Knowles and Murkowski get through their primaries, this could turn out to be a race for the ages in Alaska -- a small state where the political players tend to avoid clashes with one another. It could rival the battle in Delaware between Tom Carper (D) and Bill Roth (R) for the latter's Senate seat in 2000 or Sen. John Thune's (R) 2004 unseating of Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in South Dakota.

Penny Lee, the executive director at the Democratic Governors Association and an Alaska native, said that while the contest in her home state was "always on our radar screen," Knowles's candidacy makes the "prospects for winning even stronger."

Murkowski seems likely to make the race into a referendum on a deal he struck just days ago with several huge oil and gas companies to construct a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to either Canada or Chicago. Knowles has already said he will work to undo the deal but has also pledged to ensure the construction of a natural gas pipeline and "to develop our resources on our terms, putting Alaska jobs, businesses and our fair share first," according to a statement released by his campaign.

Phil Musser, executive director at the Republican Governors Association, gave a preview of the likely attack on Knowles during a chat with The Fix today. He said Knowles decided to run only after it was clear Murkowski would seek reelection. That decision "brings into basic question his reason for service," argued Musser.

Will the Alaska race make the next Friday gubernatorial Line? Stay tuned. We can't give away all our secrets. (For the most recent Friday governors Line, click here.)

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 31, 2006; 4:48 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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Next: California's 50th: Center Stage in Battle for the House


murkowskis secret behind closed doors dealings with big oil brings into question his loyalties, alot of people here believe he is looking out for his own future. while knowles is a very popular former governor who the people trust. the republicans in our state are looking corrupt. we cant afford to have our future riding on non-public deal making when our states future is at stake and big oil's interests are soley on the bottom line. we offer one of the most stable environments in the world for energy investment compared to the middle east and venezuela.

Posted by: nick from anchorage | June 3, 2006 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with Ohio guy. Gov. Knowles in AK is icing on the cake. It would be different if he were a potential pres. candidate, but he's not.

Jean Carnahan, Doris Matsui, and other windows appointed to Congress had to first pay the price of losing their husbands (and Carnahan's son as well) before getting to Congress. I'm sure not a single one of them would choose a seat in Congress over getting their husbands back. What did Lisa Murkowski give up before getting appointed senator?

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | June 1, 2006 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Ted Stevens isn't among the 2 biggest names in Alaska politics??

Someone isn't getting any pork this Christmas...

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | June 1, 2006 8:58 PM | Report abuse

It's true that the nepotism thing is probably now the least of Murkowski's political problems. It may have been the beginning of his decline, but there were so many other things -- longevity bonus, ferry meddling, unwanted roads to nowhere, taxes that are "user fees," Gregg Renkes, well, I just lose count. And certainly, the gas pipeline deal and the linked oil-tax deal is the major reason for his unpopularity.

Posted by: alaskan | June 1, 2006 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Totally off subject (and frankly irrelevant due to the global nature of the oil commodities market anyways), but here is a 2000 report on Alaskan oil exports:

As a reaction to oil prices and supply concerns, several bills have been introduced during 2000 which would ban the export of crude oil produced on Alaska's North Slope. The export of the oil had been prohibited by the 1973 law facilitating the construction of the pipeline system now transporting oil to the ice-free, southern Alaska port of Valdez. Subsequently, concerns about adverse effects on energy security, supply and price were alleviated. In 1995, legislation was enacted permitting export. Relatively small amounts - never more than 7% - of Alaskan crude have been sold to Korea, Japan and China. Korea imports about half of this oil.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 1, 2006 5:24 PM | Report abuse

The nepotism issue was just the first of MANY stumbles for Murkowski, and is different than the other cases because of the nature of how it happened. The Carnahan campaign made clear that electing him posthumously would mean his wife would take the seat, and others in similar circumstances were elected in their own right (most other cases were members of congress elected in special elections, not appointed). The issue has faded after she was elected, and has been oivershadowed by his buying a jet against the will of the legislature and a number of other conflicts, most recently the pipeline deal.

Posted by: Michael | June 1, 2006 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Tina, Alaskans (across the board, including conservative Republicans) were very unhappy with the appointment of Lisa. It wasn't your run-of-the-mill case of one family member stepping in for a deceased or retired relative. After Frank announced that he was running for governor, the legislature changed Alaska law and specifically tailored it so that if he won, he would name his successor. Frank held onto his Senate seat until he was sworn in as governor in December 2002; late that month, after parading a bunch of supposed candidates into his office and releasing lists of possible appointees (including Binkley and Palin), he chose HIS OWN daughter to fill the vacancy that he created. She is living in his Washington house; he never bothered to put it on the market when he was elected governor. And with both of them in office at the same time, there are complications. Nothing against Lisa -- she has many qualities that her father lacks -- but that was just too much for most Alaskans. In response, we passed a citizen initiative, overwhelmingly, that stripped the governor entirely of power to make Senate appointments. Many Alaskans -- and I'm not talking about just Democrats here, but conservative Republicans and independents and people of all stripes -- believe that Frank had plotted all along to pass on his seat to his daughter. As a matter of fact, when she was in the legislature, Lisa was probably better liked by Ds than by Rs, so this is not a case of Democrats alone whining about nepotism. Quite a few Republicans complain that Lisa is too liberal.
Oh, and to that person who insists that Alaska crude is sold to Japan -- you don't know what you're talking about. Please do a little research on the Trans Alaska Pipeline System and how it operates, and where the North Slope producers' refineries are located. Sheesh!

Posted by: I live here | June 1, 2006 1:33 PM | Report abuse

"The Democrats better deal with the issue of nepotism, since Hillary never would be anywhere today without her old hubby Billy Boy." - Tina

Hillary was elected on her own Tina. Lisa Murkowski was appointed. Get your facts straight you hypocrite.

Posted by: Ohio guy | June 1, 2006 1:13 PM | Report abuse

I think Knowles will win this race with a plurality. I'm definitely with Ohio guy, in wishing he would have picked up the Senate seat, but he could not overcome Bush's popularity in the state during the '04 election.

Posted by: H.L. | June 1, 2006 12:31 PM | Report abuse

nepotism, ah yes, that word that makes it sounds as if a person gets their job just because of a relative instead of their own ability to do the job. So I guess all those wives of dead Democrats who get appointed (Jeanne Carnahan of Colorado, Doris Matsui of California) should not have held those seats?
But if Doris won because of her husband's hard work and the people think she can continue doing it, then that is why Lisa Murkowski was elected to her own 6 year term. Afterall, Lisa had political experience in the state legislature, as well as having a good Republican mind on her shoulders.
The Democrats better deal with the issue of nepotism, since Hillary never would be anywhere today without her old hubby Billy Boy. nepotism was an issue against her on the healthcare fiasco in 1994, and she used that victimhood/poor little wife image very well to help gain the pity and sympathy from the voters to win in New York in 2000.
If the Democrats can only whine and complain about Governor Frank appointing a like-minded person to carry on as his legacy, then the Democrats need to reaccess how they deal with nepotism in their party for the future. If it is a Republican, it is bad, but if it is done by a Democrat, then it is ok. That is hypocrisy folks, and the Democrats are so blind in hate they can't even see it.

Posted by: Tina | June 1, 2006 12:30 PM | Report abuse

A note on polling: not much is publicly available, but some polls done last year give some initial insight to where the candidates would start off. This poll was from last June and included a small sample (but one refletive of the population with Rupubs outnumbering Dems 2-1 in the survey group):

Hypothetical Matchup:
50.9% Tony Knowles (D)
29.2% Frank Murkowski (R)
15.0% Andrew Halcro (I)
4.9% Undecided

MoE: 5.45%, Source: Hellenthal and Associates, June 2-9 2005

A poll conducted by NBC Juneau in December gave the initial numbers for the Republican primary (again, small sample but seemingly representative):

Sarah Palin- 42.3%
Frank Murkowski- 27.2%
John Binkley- 15.9%
Undecided- 14.6%

They also gave several head-to-head matchups at the top of the ticket, but none included either Palin or Knowles (which made no sense to me since Palin led the primary campaign, maybe reflective that her early name recognition was responsible for the high numbers but they didn't expect her to hold on). This was before Binkley's campaign began when his name recognition outside Fairbanks was low, so who he pulls support from remains to be seen, my bet is Palin (se lost the most support when Leman's name was floated so her support does seem soft). It was also when most people were writing Murkowski off as a lame duck and looking for an alternative, if he kicks off a solid campaign he will likely draw a good chunk of the conservative base back.

Most polls I've seen show Halcro getting 10-15% regardless of the other nominees, and Knowles getting 44-52% depending on the Republican nominee. Unless Knowles stumbles (and he likely wil have little time to with Republicans fighting a bruising and expensive primary from now until August 22nd), the race should be his.

Posted by: Michael | June 1, 2006 3:54 AM | Report abuse


"Another thing is that almost all the oil we produce in the western US (CA and Alaskan crude) is not sold in the US but is shipped to Japan and other countries in the Far East either refined (as is the oil in LA) or as crude (Alaskan crude) at a huge profit to the oil companies. It is not sold locally, at what could be a very low price to US consumers."

Refinement, what really happens:

"What happens is that Japan buys oil from S. American OPEC countries, and then swaps it barrel for barrel for Alaskan crude. This lowers transportation costs for the U.S. and Japan, and also lets swap oil that doesn't meet environmental regulations cheaply for oil that does meet them cheaply. "

Posted by: Japan buys Alaskan crude... | June 1, 2006 2:43 AM | Report abuse

This is huge. Huge! You'd have to consider Knowles the favorite, at least at this minute. Things can change and are extremely unpredictable up here, though. You know, the midnight sun and all. But for now, it's nice to think about the prospect of having a competent and ethical governor once more.

Posted by: Chugach gal | June 1, 2006 2:08 AM | Report abuse

For more info on the gas deal, you can look up some old news stories about Murkowski's firing of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin and the subsequent exodus of six top department managers, including Division of Oil and Gas chief Mark Myers. Irwin (and the others) had raised concerns in a private memo about the deal, that it appeared to badly shortchange the state and the public and was likely illegal. When Irwin was fired the others quit in protest, and many have been very vocal and specific about what is wrong with the deal. Mark Myers was recently tapped to head the USGS.

Posted by: alaskan | June 1, 2006 12:59 AM | Report abuse

representing the people rather than themselves...

I'm a little tired of "party" politics that are really more like Mafia gangs trying to control territories...

with little interest in the people living in those districts....

I'd like to see all lawmakers, that break laws, arrested....

I like it that Frist is okay about arresting those that aspire to cash in on their political clout illegally...

the idea that your office, which is paid for by the people of the United States, can not be entered with a warrant flies in the face of reason...

heck, half of the citizens that work in DC have been investigated to be cleared,

should the people that pass laws be exempt from examination,

if you think so, I would accuse you of treason, and pandering to the notion that oversight interferes with your looting your country....which to me is a terminating offense...

okee dokee?


Posted by: I don't care if someone is Republican or Democrat if they are actually | June 1, 2006 12:39 AM | Report abuse

Thanks everyone for explaining why the deal is suspect and why Knowles should oppose it.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | May 31, 2006 11:20 PM | Report abuse

For what it's worth, Alaska has a history of crazy, unpredictable and often three-way gubernatorial races. I'm sure this will be another interesting election.

Posted by: Brownbear | May 31, 2006 10:56 PM | Report abuse

Knowles' "reason for service": He doesn't want Alaska governed by someone as nepotistic and corrupt as Frank Murkowski.

Posted by: JoshA | May 31, 2006 10:07 PM | Report abuse

He does have a tough primary and is likely to be further damaged by it, but I think he survives it unless either Palin or Binkley withdraws, which I don't see happening. Palin signs are all over Anchorage, and Binkley's been running TV ads for a month. Together, they split the anti-Murkowski vote, which may be 60% of the Republican Party but that's not enough to top him. A lot of folks I know believe Frank can do no wrong, despite his nepotism, his jet, his cabinet troubles, and his pipeline deal. Lisa beat Knowles 49-46 in 2004, and only because Republicans nationalized it in the closing days of the race by pushing that voting against Murkowski could undermine Stevens becaus eit could cost Republicans the Senate (back when it looked like Dems would hold NC, FL, and pick up Oklahoma). There's nothing like that to fall back on, just their records and their vision for Alaska's future. I don;t think Murkowski stands a prayer there, the R next to his name only takes him so far.

Posted by: Michael | May 31, 2006 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Also on the gas deal: It's probably the No. 1 reason for Murkowski's dismal approval rating (23 percent in the last poll). He's done a lot of stupid things (remember the personal jet?) but there's just an overriding suspicion about his agreement with the Big Three oil companies for fiscal terms that, as Knowles put it, result in at best a 45-year exclusive option to build a gas pipeline if the companies decide they want to. Everyone in Alaska wants the gas pipeline, but few are confident in Murkowski's ability to set financial terms that are fair to the public or even constitutional. For example: He and the oil companies want to lock in oil and gas taxes for 30 to 45 years, with no changes allowed. Would any rational, democratic government make such a commitment? As now-Lt. Gov. candidate Ethan Berkowitz has said, it's absurd. And as some people have said, if the oil companies want such a guarantee about their taxes, how about making them guarantee that they won't raise prices for 45 years?

Posted by: alaskan | May 31, 2006 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Alaska North Slope crude oil does not go to Japan. Most of it goes by supertanker from the port of Valdez to the U.S. West Coast, where it is refined. A small amount is refined in-state for in-state markets, including the large market for aviation fuel.
The refineries within Alaska and on the U.S. West Coast are the closest destinations and are set up to process the rather heavy ANS crude.
As for Knowles-Murkowski-Halcro, remember that Murkowski has a tough primary on his hands and may not emerge from it.

Posted by: alaskan | May 31, 2006 8:35 PM | Report abuse

that they're drilling the North Slope...

for what reason?

because as I understand it,

we send all of our Alaskan oil to Japan.

seems to me that some propaganda goes out that we don't actually check...

like if that's true, we don't need to give it to Japan, we could let them buy their oil from Venezuela.

oh and:

what isn't being talked about is this:

the occupation of a foriegn country to defraud it's people of their oil in the name of

making a few people in the international and United States communities richer, is not nice and

makes the Iraqi people angry.

the fact that the US soldiers have had the story foisted them, that their home country was attacked by Iraqi' the propaganda machine run by this administration and congress

which has foisted that story on the world AND THE UNITED STATES CITIZENS...

and that the soldiers believe that story, and see the Iraqi people, in general, as their enemies is DEEPLY disturbing....

two naive groups fighting each other.

the soldiers don't know that they are seen as theives and liars, because they have been sold the PNAC view of the world...that they are heroes....

which is why we are helping Africa natives with their problems of trying to form democratic countries and deal with various plagues....

oh, we're not doing that?

why because they're not sitting on top of the second largest oil reserves in the world>?


we so need a third party to help the debates coming up:

as a seperate personality to keep the debates honest...

maybe they should bow out at the end,

but they would hold a tone of honesty and redeem the United States in the eyes of the world............

and I would have a moderator that sought to put the heat on those debating by being less than respectful and acting like a citizen might that saw

the greatest democratic nation becoming a haven for thieves.

rule by the few for the few...

as in:

outsourcing, downsizing, internationalization, _illegal_ immigration

internationals being treated as_if they were friends of the country....

when in fact they are lining a few pockets and siphoning money out of the United States and creating burgeoning poverty for most citizens,

which is why Mexico wants us to keep the illegals they send money home to Mexico...

but right now times are troubled for many,

most especially for the old right now,

and with the baby boomers being _old_ they had better effing think of what that means if this government starts to disinfranchise the upper middle class as it runs out of people to tap dry....

do you understand me?

1 simple point:

at a time when there is a drop in what government agencies will do for the disinfranchised, elderly, what not....

your heartless government increased the weight upon each of the elderly on fixed income, by $30 per person per month for every person on Social Security, that includes SSI, or the disabled, both physically and mentally, fixed income folk...$30/month to pay for his occupation...

to fund this fraud of a what? "war"

NO, to tell the truth, to fund the OCCUPATION of a foreign country to defraud that country with huge OIL RESERVES....out of it's oil and economic influence as well as make some money for dah boss.

to control the predictablility of oil markets and world economies.... _control_

they stole money from old people and disabled people to get fund the occupation from the general fund...

it's real simple....this administration and congress steals from old people and disabled to fund their money making ventures...

simple? it's not even hype, it's the facts jack.

you want another example of heartlessness?

how about sending the National Guard into combat without real combat training,

after you, "the effing dickless caricature of a man" (geow.bush),

have used the same orgainization to avoid combat in's an alternative, historically to protect the United States and to take the government back in the case of a coup from the inside.

_now_ that geo w.bush is in charge, the citizens don't get that same choice....geo w. bush, cheyney, rumsfeld, need money, eff the guard, they need to die....send 'em...._they_ are only own everything..

it's really the same action,
a thoughtless, heartless, selfishness....

but two distinct groups...

1. old people and disabled

2. people that don't want to kill other people in foreign lands...

people not of "his class/tribe,"



Posted by: it's interesting to me, in these troubled times. | May 31, 2006 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I can't imagine a sitting Governor bounce back 30 points in 5 months....

Without, of course, voting irregularities. The Alaskan voting system has been suspect since 2000.

100 bucks that Murkowski wins by one of those famous "2% margins with exit poll problems".

Posted by: Toby | May 31, 2006 7:35 PM | Report abuse

So now Democrats will pick up one more governorship on top of the 8-10 they were already going to pick up. Big deal - it's Alaska. I think Knowles will have no trouble dispatching the second most unpopular governor in the country (I can't believe he is running for reelection by the way) but i'm just not as excited about this race as I am about Ohio, New York, Maryland, Colorado, Mass, RI, Arkansas, California, Minnesota or Nevada. I would much rather that Knowles had won his Senate race in '04 than become governor again.

Posted by: Ohio guy | May 31, 2006 7:14 PM | Report abuse

"OK, the following begs for a "and now for the rest of the story" disclosure: "...Knowles has already said he will work to undo the deal." Why would Knowles want to do that?"

The deal is very suspect. It was negotiated without the participation of the legislature, raises constitutional issues as to whether the state can enter into a contract that cannot be modified for as long as the contract is in effect (I think the terms are 40 years), withheld from any public review until it was a done deal, and is seen by too many as a giveaway to the gas companies in violation of the Alaska constitution's mandate to develop its resources by "making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest." Furthermore, it doesn't even require the pipeline be built, the word "may" appears over and over, leaving it out of the state's hands. If that's the case, they will liekly defer an Alaska gas line in favor of a Canadian pipeline, which is what the deal was supposed to avert in the first place.

Posted by: Michael | May 31, 2006 6:03 PM | Report abuse

Apparrently it is a risky and expensive venture for Alaska to the tune of $4 Billion and would be a sweetheart deal for the oil and gas companies.

It would also put the state in a position to find its own purchasers as the state would take its cut in gas not cash. In essence it would become a public utility in a volitile marketplace.

Posted by: RMill | May 31, 2006 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Halcro will be the wild card in the general election. He's a moderate former Republican lawmaker whose wife is policy director for Planned Parenthood in AK, who has a strong fiscally conservative background and socially moderate platform. Name recognition is low, but his advertising campaign is clever and memorable (Tag line, "Im running for governor, please STOP ME (and ask me about my positions, etc)).

I'm interested to see whether the Republican primary follows the traditional pro or anti incumbent vote, or whether all candidates will start on a equal footing. If its the former, Palin has a strong base of support in Mat-Su, Kenai, and Anchorage, while Binkley dominates the Fairbanks ares. If voters must first decide whether or not to fire Murkowski, he'll be at a strong advantage with those other candidates dividing the anti-incumbent vote. Otherwise, if the party has soured on him enough, Palin has name recognition (ran against Leman for Lt Gov four years ago and is well regarded as former mayor) while Binkley has the family name and money going for him (also quasi-public sector executive experience as the head of the Alaska railroad). But my sources in the Republican party tell me Murkowski should have a lock on the nomination at this point, unless the dynamics change.

The Knowles-Murkowski-Halcro election will be a tough one, but I have to give an edge to Knowles at this point, especially if the best line of attack against him is to question his motive for service. If anything, that can be spun to his advantage as heeding the call for the good of the state. He looks to be framing his campaign around the gas pipeline deal and highlighting the manner in which Murkowski has run the process thus far and the damage it has done to the state. He has credibility on this issue as a staunch supporter of ANWR drilling in his eight previous years as governor, and can use this to draw a parallel to Alaska's other three-term governor, William Egan, who came back in the early 1970's to see the trans-Alaska pipeline to a finish. It'sa very Red state, but Knowles is popular with moderates, has proven himself in the past, and will likely face a wounded incumbent with a moderate former Republican to siphen votes from him. The edge has to go to Knowles on this one.

Posted by: Michael | May 31, 2006 5:54 PM | Report abuse

OK, the following begs for a "and now for the rest of the story" disclosure: "...Knowles has already said he will work to undo the deal." Why would Knowles want to do that?

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | May 31, 2006 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, that's Halcro.

Posted by: RMill | May 31, 2006 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Marketing executive and former State Rep. Andrew Halco is also running as an independent.

Knowles provides bonafide challenge to a wounded imcumbant. It should be interesting to see the first set of polling numbers on this one.

Posted by: RMill | May 31, 2006 5:31 PM | Report abuse

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