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Primary Preview: Alaska Governor's Race

Politics in the Last Frontier rarely get the attention they deserve due to the state's remote location. But, today Alaska is at the center of the political world as Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) seeks to pull off a miracle and win his party's nomination for a second term.

Four years ago, Murkowski came into office as one of Alaska's political pillars. He left the Senate after 22 years to run for governor and faced little opposition in the primary or general election. But, the more Alaskans got to see of Murkowski the less they liked him. He began his term by appointing his daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to the Senate -- a move that did not sit well with the party political establishment. Then Murkowski got into a high-profile fight with the state legislature (and the federal government) over his plan to purchase a private jet on the state's dime.

Most neutral observers expected Murkowski, who rates among the least popular of the nation's governors, to bow out after a single term. But Murkowski shocked the political world by announcing in late May that he would run again despite the fact that he had raised no money for the race and trailed former state Sen. John Binkley and former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin in the Republican primary.

Murkowski proceeded to run one of the most unorthodox campaigns in recent memory -- willingly admitting that he may not be the most likeable person but arguing that he gets results for the state.

Republican voters aren't buying, according to a recent poll conducted by David Dittman -- Murkowski's former pollster. In that survey, which was released Aug. 16, Palin led the primary with 40 percent. Binkley places second with 29 percent and Murkowski brings up the rear with 17 percent.

"In my opinion the key element over the next week is going to be the Murkowski voter," wrote Dittman in an analysis of the poll. "What are they going to do if they believe he has almost no chance of winning? Are they going to stay home, stay with Murkowski or switch to another candidate?" Dittman concludes that Murkowski's supporters are more likely to name Binkley as their second choice (46 percent) than Palin (31 percent).

Although polling shows Murkowski as a spoiler -- at best -- in the race, neither of the other two candidates are taking him for granted given the demonstrated power of incumbents. If Murkowski is defeated today, he will be the first governor this cycle to suffer such a defeat. In 2004, Missouri Gov. Bob Holden (D) lost his primary to state Auditor Claire McCaskkill who went on to fall short in the general election against Gov. Matt Blunt.

The Democratic race in Alaska is considerably less dramatic. Former Gov. Tony Knowles is a huge favorite over state Rep. Eric Croft. National Democrats are privately praying that Murkowski pulls off the upset, believing he is far and away the easiest to beat Republican.

If Palin or Binkley wins, this contest will be a much more traditional race, which spells trouble for Democrats. Alaska is a Republican stronghold as evidenced by President Bush's 25-point victory there in 2004.

For more on the Alaska gubernatorial race make sure to read the Dan Balz's take on the race -- all the way from Anchorage.

The polls close in Alaska at Midnight, EST. The Alaska Division of Elections will post election results as they become available.

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 22, 2006; 2:22 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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