Alaska's Murkowski Faces Challenging Primary Alaska's Gov. Frank Murkowski faces a primary election for his second term Tuesday. Polls show the former senator with a positive rating of only about 20 percent in his own party. Murkowski has been criticized by many as being too close to the oil industry, and his primary challengers say they would renegotiate unpopular deals.
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Alaska's Murkowski Faces Challenging Primary

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Alaska's Murkowski Faces Challenging Primary

Alaska's Murkowski Faces Challenging Primary

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

After 22 years in the U.S. Senate and four years as governor of Alaska, Frank Murkowski could be facing the prospect of life out of office. In order to win a second term as governor, he first must survive tomorrow's Republican primary, and his prospects look dim. Murkowski faces two strong competitors and a record that many voters in Alaska are unhappy with.

Anne Sutton reports from Juneau on the governor's troubled campaign.

Governor FRANK MURKOWSKI (Alaska): It's hard for people to admit their faults, and I'm no different.

ANNE SUTTON reporting:

In a recent campaign ad, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski faces the camera and the voters head-on.

Governor MURKOWSKI: It's become painfully obvious that many of you are questioning your support for me. Whatever the reason, I admit I am not perfect.

SUTTON: It's probably as close as Murkowski's come to publicly admitting his reelection bid is in trouble, but independent polls show the 73-year-old incumbent trailing well behind two Republican primary opponents, former Wasilla mayor Sarah Palin and Fairbanks businessman John Binkley. But his attempt at a mea culpa may not resonate with a lot of undecided voters. Busy new mom Laura Hosey(ph) is considering the alternatives.

Ms. LAURA HOSEY (Alaskan resident): As far as I'm concerned, the current governor has done a lot of things wrong, so I would say someone who has done the opposite of what he has - or would do the opposite of what he has done and try and repair some of the damage that he has done.

SUTTON: Murkowski's unpopularity might seem counterintuitive. Income from oil makes up 80 percent of state revenues and record prices have results in a hefty budget surplus, though it's taking a hit from the recent Prudhoe Bay shutdown.

Meanwhile, Murkowski's been working to clench a deal to build a $25 billion natural gas pipeline to Canada. You'd think that would create some political capitol, says University of Alaska political science professor Clive Thomas.

Professor CLIVE THOMAS (University of Alaska): Generally speaking, governors would be popular in that period, however they came across. But that doesn't seem to work with Governor Murkowski for some reason. I think that personality is the thing that probably has put people off the most, I would say.

SUTTON: Murkowski started alienating Alaskans right after his election as governor, with a series of unpopular decisions - from appointing his own daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to fill the remainder of his U.S. Senate term, to eliminating a bonus program for elderly Alaskans, to doggedly pursuing purchase of a $2.5 million state jet for his use as governor.

His gruff and overbearing style also rubbed some people wrong, but the former banker is trying to convince voters to focus on the future instead.

Governor MURKOWSKI: We're about to embark on the greatest significant event since statehood, and that's the gas line, because it'll anchor the economy into this state for the next 50 years.

SUTTON: At this recent Public Television debate, he cast himself as the candidate best suited to bring a gas line to Alaska, and most likely in November to beat former two-term Governor Tony Knowles, the likely Democratic nominee who is seeking a comeback. So far, though, the Republican-led state legislature has criticized Murkowski's proposed gas line contract with three oil companies, and despite his efforts to push it through, law-makers have put off action until after the election.

Although Murkowski has suggested in recent campaign ads that all he really needs is a personality transplant, voters will decide tomorrow if more radical surgery is necessary.

For NPR News, I'm Anne Sutton in Juneau, Alaska.

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