By Matt Volz
Thursday, August 24, 2006
ANCHORAGE, Aug. 23 -- Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, whose missteps over the past four years have turned him into one of the most unpopular governors in state history, soundly lost his bid for reelection, finishing last in a three-way race for the Republican nomination.
With 87 percent of precincts reporting, Sarah Palin, a former Wasilla mayor, won the GOP nomination with 51 percent of the vote. Former state legislator John Binkley came in second with 30 percent. Murkowski polled just 19 percent.
Palin will next face Tony Knowles, a former two-term governor. Knowles handily won the Democratic primary with 74 percent of the vote, beating state Rep. Eric Croft.
Elections also were held Tuesday in Wyoming, where incumbent Dave Freudenthal easily won the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and in Oklahoma, where three-term Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin won the Republican nomination in District 5 in her bid to become the state's first female member of Congress since 1920.
Alaska voters were leaning toward adopting a $50-per-person tax on cruise ship passengers. Proponents want the industry to pay more for improving ports and other visitor services. With 87 percent of precincts reporting, 52 percent of Alaskans had voted for the tax and 48 percent against it.
Murkowski, 73, sought to make the primary a referendum on his proposal to build a $25 billion natural gas pipeline to Canada, calling the project "the greatest significant event since statehood."
His approval ratings have skidded over the past four years because of much-criticized decisions. They include appointing his daughter to his Senate seat and buying a state jet after his request for the aircraft was denied by the federal government and the state legislature.
In Oklahoma, Fallin easily won the Republican nomination Tuesday in the race for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Ernest Istook.
Fallin defeated Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, and she will be favored in the general election against Democrat David Hunter and independent Matthew Horton Woodson. All three hope to replace Istook, a Republican running for governor after seven terms in Congress.
Fallin was the first woman and first Republican to be elected lieutenant governor.
In Wyoming, Freudenthal handily defeated challenger Al Hamburg for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Freudenthal received 89 percent of the vote against Hamburg, a retired house painter whose 1989 conviction for election fraud would have prevented him from holding office if he had won.
Freudenthal will face Ray Hunkins, a lawyer and rancher, who also was an easy winner on the Republican side. And Republican Barbara Cubin, who holds Wyoming's lone U.S. House seat, held off a primary challenge from Bill Winney, a retired naval officer.