- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s junior senator for less than a year, is a rarity — a vulnerable Republican incumbent. Some of the blame lies with her father.

Appointed by Gov. Frank Murkowski to fill out the remaining two years of his fourth term as U.S. senator, Miss Murkowski faces a Democratic challenge from a popular former two-term governor and several Republican rivals put out by her easy road to Washington.

When Mr. Murkowski passed over a handful of seasoned Republican contenders to tap his daughter to replace him, he was subjected to a barrage of complaints of nepotism. Mr. Murkowski said he “reached out to Alaskans from all over the state” and felt that his appointee should share “my basic philosophy, my values.”

Once that criticism subsided, Mr. Murkowski’s rocky gubernatorial start, marked by unpopular budget cuts, cast a shadow over his daughter’s Senate career. Now, Miss Murkowski has to worry about the possible political fallout when she seeks a full six-year term in 2004.

“A U.S. Senate seat in Alaska only comes along once in a great while. People are floating trial balloons,” said Willis Lyford, a Republican consultant who noted that many in the state view the race as an open seat.

Faced with the possibility of several primary challengers, Miss Murkowski has raised $934,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports, for a race she estimates will cost $3 million. It’s the standard political strategy of trying to scare off rivals with plenty of cash.

She has the support of two Alaska Republican stalwarts: Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The 46-year-old Miss Murkowski, a Georgetown University graduate, lawyer and former Alaska House member, also has some plum committee assignments, including Senate Energy and Natural Resources, as well as Environment and Public Works. Oil-producing Alaska, with its acres of wilderness, has a vested interest in the work of those committees.

But, so far, no Republican challenger has backed off. Among the likely candidates are two whom Mr. Murkowski passed over in December — Alaska Teamster President Jerry Hood and Fairbanks businessman John Binkley. Sarah Palin, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor last year, is considered a rising Republican star and a potential candidate.

“I’m not deterred by the amount of money that has been raised so far,” Mr. Binkley said. “I don’t think it requires the multiple millions of dollars that people have talked about.”

On the Democratic side, the party leadership in the Senate heavily courted former Gov. Tony Knowles, the one-time Anchorage mayor, and were gleeful when he announced his intention to run.

With a reputation as a moderate Republican, Miss Murkowski has tried to court the state’s all-important conservative voters. Although she has supported a woman’s right to abortion, she voted for a ban on late-term abortions and has backed President Bush’s agenda consistently.

“She’s moving in the right direction and doing the right things in Washington,” Mr. Lyford said.

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