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Murkowski Falls, Cubin At Risk?

On Tuesday Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) became the fourth incumbent in 2006 -- and first governor -- to lose a bid for his party's nomination.

Murkowski was beaten soundly, placing third out of the three serious candidates, taking just 19 percent of the vote. Former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin won the race convincingly with 51 percent, while former state Sen. John Binkley took 30 percent.

Republican Governors Association Chairman Mitt Romney (Mass.) saluted Murkowski "for a career of accomplishments" and praised Palin's "platform of controlling state spending and growing small business."

On the Democratic side, former Gov. Tony Knowles -- as expected -- cruised to a 73 percent to 26 percent win over state Rep. Eric Croft. "Governor Tony Knowles stands ready to reverse steps taken during the past four years that have put Alaska on the wrong track," said Democratic Governors Association Chairman Bill Richardson (N.M.).

Knowles, who served as governor from 1994 to 2002, would have been a heavy favorite over Murkowski in the general election given the incumbent's problems. Palin carries few of the negatives that Murkowski would have brought to the race but also must show voters in the state that she can match Knowles' stature. Nonetheless, Palin's victory increases Republicans' chances of holding the seat in the fall even though it remains a prime target for Democrats. (Last month, Alaska was the 10th ranked race on the Friday Governors Line. Make sure to check The Fix on Friday for our updated gubernatorial rankings.)

Murkowksi joins Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) as well as Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.) as incumbents to come up short in party primaries. Lieberman is running for re-election as an independent in the fall.

Meanwhile in Wyoming, incumbent Rep. Barbara Cubin underperformed in the Republican primary for the second straight cycle. She beat little-known Bill Winney 61 percent to 39 percent, but lost Laramie County, which includes the state capitol of Cheyenne and cast the most votes in the contest. She narrowly won Natrona County, which is her political base. Back in 2004, Cubin took just 55 percent against two serious primary opponents.

National Democrats see Cubin as a potential target -- albeit a long shot -- this fall. Businessman Gary Trauner is the Democratic nominee. As of August 2nd, Cubin had $233,000 on hand compared to $206,000 in the bank for Trauner.

Although Wyoming elected Democrat Dave Feudenthal as governor in 2002, it is still a solidly Republican seat. Republicans have held the state's lone House seat for the past 28 years, however, beginning in 1978 when Vice President Dick Cheney won it. President Bush carried the state by a whopping 40 points in 2004.

By Chris Cillizza  |  August 23, 2006; 9:50 AM ET
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