DSCC Enjoys the Show

Alaska LG’s Break With Murkowskis Roils Election

Posted May 19, 2004 at 6:39pm

Now that Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) primary opponent has won the backing of the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, Democrats are more bullish than ever about their prospects of winning her Senate seat.

But Republicans say recent polls should serve as a reality check.

The latest development in Alaska’s Republican internecine warfare this week saw Lt. Gov. Loren Leman (R) buck his governor and Murkowski’s father — Frank Murkowski — by supporting former state Senate President Mike Miller in the GOP primary.

It “looks more like an episode of ‘Dynasty’ than a Senate race,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) said in a conference call Wednesday.

“After $350,000 in positive television advertising for Murkowski in Alaska she remains mired at no better than 45 percent in the polls,” the DSCC said in an accompanying statement.

Republicans quickly pointed to those same polls to accuse Corzine of talking about Miller as a way to deflect attention from former Gov. Tony Knowles’ (D) apparent slide in public opinion.

“All the recent polls show is that if he had any momentum when he first got into the race last July, it’s gone,” said Dan Allen, a National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman.

Allen was referring to a poll conducted for KTUU-TV in Anchorage last July showing Knowles leading Murkowski 52 percent to 40 percent (Republicans have charged that the pollster the station uses is a Democrat but reference his polls nonetheless).

The station’s latest poll at the beginning of May had Knowles and Murkowski tied at 45 percent each.

“They should be concerned themselves, and what they’re trying to deflect attention from is that Tony lost 12 points,” said Elliott Bundy, Murkowski’s campaign spokesman.

“Alaska is a strong Republican state and with President Bush leading the ticket, we have even more reason to be encouraged,” Allen added.

Despite strong national party backing, Lisa Murkowski has to contend with Miller, a former official in Frank Murkowski’s administration who says she is not conservative enough, in the Aug. 24 primary.

“This is a true family feud if there ever was one,” Corzine said, adding that Miller is on television and has now won the backing of the Leman, Alaska Right to Life Committee and former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, another former Murkowski administration official.

Leman, who bested Palin and four others in the 2002 GOP lieutenant governor’s primary to then become Frank Murkowski’s running mate in the general election, told a conservative think tank founder recently that he doubted Lisa Murkowski could win a full term because of the nepotism issue.

Murkowski was appointed to the Senate by her father in December 2002 after he resigned the position to become governor.

Leman then appeared Tuesday at a news conference with Miller to formally endorse him — citing Miller’s conservatism as the reason.

“He is more experienced, more conservative on the issues and better able to unite voters in this general election battle,” the Anchorage Daily News quoted Leman as saying.

“It’s not a surprise that he endorsed Mike Miller — they have a personal relationship,” Bundy said. “This is his opinion — you cannot read anything else into it except that this is his opinion.”

Furthermore, Bundy pointed out, “the lieutenant governor and governor do not run together in Alaska,” so there’s no feeling of “betrayal” on anyone’s part.

If the governor is angry or will find it difficult to continue working with Leman, he isn’t saying. His office had no comment about the endorsement, or anything else pertaining to the race, Wednesday.

Bundy acknowledged that the GOP house is not in order and called on Republicans to coalesce around Murkowski.

“All Republicans need to pull together and realize that the goal is to beat Tony Knowles,” he said. “And the only person who can accomplish that objective is Senator Murkowski.”

In the most recent KTUU poll, Murkowski led Miller 66 percent to 28 percent among Republican voters, and the poll showed Miller getting trounced by Knowles in a general election matchup. The poll of 500 likely voters had a 4.4 percent error margin.