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Posted September 3, 2003 at 6:22pm

When Democratic leaders persuaded Tony Knowles (D) to challenge Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) next year, they promised the former two-term governor the resources and backup not normally associated with a political campaign in the Last Frontier.

As part of that promise, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already sent to Alaska someone from its policy shop, Bradley Katz, to do research for Knowles. Not a bad gig to be out of Washington, D.C., this time of year, but watch out for the Alaskan winter.

The rest of Knowles’ team is slowly taking shape and consists mostly of Alaska loyalists. Leslie Ridel, who ran Knowles’ constituent relations and Anchorage offices while he was governor, is serving as campaign coordinator — though it is not clear whether she will continue to manage day-to-day operations as the election draws near.

Bob King, who was Knowles’ spokesman for the eight years he was governor, is filling the same role for the campaign. Diane Moxness, who works at an investment firm, is the campaign controller; she had a similar role in Knowles’ first successful campaign for governor in 1994.

In-state fundraising is being headed up by Cammy Oechsli Taylor, an Anchorage attorney who worked in Knowles’ 1994 campaign and who was his appointee to the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Matt Felan, a D.C.-based consultant, is serving as the national fundraiser.

“Right now, we’re mostly working out of Knowles’ house [in Anchorage],” King reported.

And what is the former governor up to?

“He’s spending a lot of telephone time, and a lot of it involves fundraising,” King replied. “We haven’t had many fundraisers per se. It’s the background work.”

King said Knowles would soon begin interviewing media consultants and other national strategists for what is likely to be one of the most closely watched Senate races of the year.

With the benefit of incumbency, Murkowski, who was appointed to the Senate by her father in December 2002, spent the Congressional recess traveling around Alaska doing constituent work. Dan Allen, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Murkowski does not have much of a campaign team in place yet but is focusing on fundraising.

“There’s a loose-knit group of people who are helping her around the state,” he said — including a finance chairman, Curtis Thayer.

New York, New Work. A top aide to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) who is a veteran of her 2000 campaign has been named New York state director of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (D-Conn.) presidential campaign.

Basil Smikle, who serves as Clinton’s deputy state director and managed her 2000 field events, will run Lieberman’s New York operation. He previously served as a top aide to then-Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer (D).

Smikle will be assisted by John Wellspeak, a senior aide to state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D), who will be a senior adviser to Lieberman. Wellspeak has spent 10 years with Silver — one of several prominent Empire State politicians to have endorsed Lieberman — and is a former executive director of the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee.

The new Lieberman brain trust appears to have geographic balance: Smikle grew up in the Bronx and lives in Harlem; Wellspeak was raised upstate, in Willsboro, and lives in Albany.

A Little Help From Ed’s Friends. Pennsylvania political observers have wondered how much help Gov. Ed Rendell (D) would be willing to lend to efforts to defeat Sen. Arlen Specter (R) next year. Specter, after all, gave Rendell his first job as a lawyer, in the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, and the two remain close.

But this is at least a beginning: The PoliticsPa.com Web site has reported that Tom Hickey, who was Rendell’s deputy press secretary for the 2002 campaign, the transition and in Harrisburg, will become spokesman for Rep. Joe Hoeffel’s (D) 2004 campaign to unseat Specter.

Drooling Over the Results. This is the kind of election we love: Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream purveyor, is offering America Online subscribers an opportunity to name a new election-themed ice cream flavor.

Ben & Jerry’s has teamed with Rock the Vote, the organization that encourages young people to cast ballots, to create a new flavor designed to help Rock the Vote achieve its goals.

The first phase of the election is over: AOL subscribers were asked to submit suggestions for a name for the flavor, which features strawberry cheesecake ice cream with strawberries and a thick graham cracker swirl. On Sept. 24, the top three candidates will be announced. And from Sept. 24 to 28, AOL members will be able to elect the best name.

The election results will be announced on Oct. 6 and, oh yes, the ice cream will hit the stores next spring.

From Ben & Jerry’s to Starbucks. Squier Knapp Dunn Communications, the venerable Democratic firm, has moved after 20 years at the same location. The new address is 1818 N St. NW. The reason, some wags at the firm have suggested, is the new office’s proximity to a Starbucks.