It has been thirty years since the state of Alaska elected a Democrat to the Senate, but the outcome of this year’s Senate race is anything but certain for the GOP. The seat is currently held by Republican Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed by her father, Frank Murkowski, who won the governor’s mansion in 2002 and appointed her to his former spot in the Senate. This was the first step that turned Alaskans a bit sour toward the junior Senator from Alaska. Charges of nepotism have given Murkowski a disadvantage, in what is already a historically precarious position; only forty percent of Senators whom have been appointed in modern American history have survived their first bid to hold on to their seat, and Murkowski faces a formidable foe in former governor Tony Knowles.
Furthermore, the Murkowski name has lost its luster among Alaskan conservatives. Lisa Murkowski, while in the state house of representatives, voted to approve increases on the alcohol tax to make it the highest in the country. She was also one of five Republicans who voted against a bill restricting publicly funded abortions. She declares that she is pro-life except for cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of the mother’s life. She has also supported the ban on partial-birth abortion. However, Alaska Right to Life still opposed her in 1998, claiming, “She is not pro-life.” Her father has also further tarnished the Murkowski name by reneging on his promise to not raise taxes as governor.
Lisa Murkowski’s challenger is Democrat Tony Knowles, a popular former two-term governor. Knowles has run a campaign portraying himself as an independent thinker who will put Alaska’s interests above partisan loyalties. One of the major issues that has buoyed this claim has been his support for oil drilling in the Article National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). Knowles claims that his position as a Democrat in the Senate would help him bring other Democrats to supporting this measure for an industry that is the backbone of Alaska’s economy. He has also highlighted his high-profile opposition to Bill Clinton’s environmental regulations when he was governor. However, the fact remains that as a Democrat, he will be running to join a caucus of several senators who have vehemently opposed such drilling for the past four years.
(Insert 1 or 2 paragraphs about the polling in this race)- While there polling has not been implemented to a large extent in this race, recent polls indicate that Knowles is ahead. Since October 4, 2004, he leads Murkowski by a margin of three percent, a margin that has dropped moderately since September when Knowles held a comfortable six percent lead.
Ultimately, this race is a toss-up. It has been a predominantly Republican state for decades that is looking to hand a landslide to George W. Bush. However, recent circumstances, including Alaskans’ suspicion of Lisa Murkowski’s appointment, rifts within the Alaskan Republican Party, the recent decline of Governor Frank Murkowski’s popularity give an advantage to Tony Knowles, who has proven to be a strong opponent. The forces of this campaign have Alaska’s Republican tendencies and the recent advantages of a popular challenger synthesizing into deadlocked polls and an unpredictable showdown on Nov. 2.