Alaska features one of the key Senate races to watch in 2004. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed to her seat by her father, Frank, the former senator turned governor, will face former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, a popular Democrat whose presence in the race has transformed heavily GOP Alaska into an unlikely battleground in the fight for control of the Senate.
Polls point toward a close race between Murkowski and Knowles. Democrats haven't held a Senate seat in the state in more than two decades.
Lisa Murkowski won her party's primary over several opponents in August, marking her first victory in a statewide election. Knowles faced token opposition in the primary. Knowles served as mayor of Anchorage for six years in the 1980s and was governor from 1994 to 2002.
Frank Murkowski gave his seat to his daughter after the Legislature changed state law to allow the new governor and not the incumbent _ Knowles in this case _ the power to fill Senate vacancies. Lisa Murkowski's challengers made nepotism an issue in the race, along with attacking her credentials as a conservative.
The debate over opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling became a prominent issue in the race. Most Alaskans support opening the refuge, and both Knowles and Murkowski back drilling.
Murkowski has been endorsed by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who made a campaign appearance in Anchorage. She's also gotten the blessing of Alaska's senior senator, Ted Stevens.
An initiative will be on the ballot to change how the state fills temporary U.S. Senate vacancies. The initiative, which would repeal the governor's ability to make a temporary appointment, was thrown out earlier this year by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, a Republican who oversees the state elections division. The Alaska Supreme Court has since ordered it back on the ballot.
Vacancies under the initiative would instead would be filled by special election, which could occur within 60 to 90 days.
In 2002, Senate Republican Ted Stevens, a six-term incumbent defeated four challengers.
Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski left his Senate seat of 22 years after a convincing win over Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer. Democrat Tony Knowles was barred from seeking a third term as governor. A Republican had not been governor in Alaska since Jay Hammond, who served from 1974-1982.
Murkowski appointed his daughter, Lisa, to finish out the remaining two years of his term. Lisa Murkowski had been in the state House of Representatives. Frank Murkowski said he wanted someone young enough to gain seniority and strong enough to win re-election in 2004
In the state's only House race in 2002, opposition for incumbent Don Young was limited.
Voters rejected an initiative to move the Legislature from Juneau to lower central Alaska by a margin of 2-1. The idea of moving the Legislature has been presented to Alaskan voters six times since statehood.