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.)
May 31, 2006; 4:48 PM ET
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