Murkowski mum on governor's race

John Binkley advertising kicks off the campaign season

Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Gov. Frank Murkowski's self-imposed deadline for announcing his re-election plans passes today with no word on whether the 72-year-old Republican plans to seek another term.

"I have not heard anything about an announcement," Murkowski press secretary Becky Hultberg said Monday.

Last month, Murkowski said he planned to announce by the end of January whether he plans to campaign for re-election. Before that, in November, he said he would not make a re-election decision until negotiations with three oil companies for a North Slope natural gas pipeline had ended.

Secret state negotiations with BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil are continuing in Juneau. A deal would set long-range fiscal terms to build a gas pipeline to Canada and the Midwest, estimated to cost between $20 billion and $25 billion.

There has been no indication from the Murkowski administration if the two sides, in negotiations for more than a year, are close to an agreement.

Despite his low approval ratings, several lawmakers believe Murkowski intends to run again, especially after January's sweeping State of the State Address, in which the governor recounted the successes of his first term in office.

If he decides to run, Murkowski will join a Republican field that includes John Binkley of Fairbanks and Sarah Palin of Wasilla. Binkley is a former legislator and chairman of the Alaska Railroad Corp. Palin is a former mayor of Wasilla and lost a close primary election to Loren Leman for lieutenant governor in 2002.

Anchorage Reps. Ethan Berkowitz and Eric Croft are running on the Democratic ticket. Anchorage businessman and former Republican lawmaker Andrew Halcro is running as an independent.

Although candidates can file a declaration with the Division of Elections up to June 1, the race has already begun. Last week, the Alaska State AFL-CIO kicked off the election season with a forum featuring the five announced candidates.

Binkley has started running advertisements on Alaska television stations. He said the commercials are a way for Alaskans outside of Fairbanks and the Bush to familiarize themselves with him and his experience.

"I'm running the spots to introduce myself to the people of Anchorage, Mat-Su, the Kenai Peninsula and Southeast," Binkley said. "I'm well known in Fairbanks and the Interior, as well as rural Alaska."

Binkley was born in Fairbanks and owns the family steamboat business there. He represented Bethel and southwestern Alaska in the statehouse in the 1980s.

He, too, is waiting to see what Murkowski does, but Binkley said the governor's decision will not change his campaign strategy.

"It really doesn't affect my campaign," he said. "I'm running to be governor of the state of Alaska and I'm really not running against anybody."

If Murkowski enters the race, the Republican fundraising pool will be spread thinner among three candidates instead of two. Binkley said the ability to raise money is a good indication of the amount of support a candidate has.

"Fundraising to date has been very successful for me," he said. "And that's with the speculation that the governor is going to run."

Binkley declined to say how much he has raised, saying that he preferred to wait until campaign finance reports are released next month.

Palin did not return calls for comment on Monday.

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