ANCHORAGE - Former state Senate President Mike Miller said Wednesday he will run in the August Republican primary against U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose father appointed her to the post when he was elected governor in 2002.
Miller, 52, said the issue of nepotism would doom Murkowski in a race with the expected Democratic candidate, former Gov. Tony Knowles.
"Both are liberals, so the only issue would be nepotism - and Lisa Murkowski loses to Tony Knowles," he said. "In a race with Mike Miller, Tony Knowles would have to talk about issues."
The race is considered nationally important because a Democratic win could upset the partisan distribution in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-48 majority, with one Democratic-aligned independent. Democrats haven't held a Senate seat in Alaska in more than two decades.
Polls point to a close Alaska race.
Miller, who recently stepped down as Gov. Frank Murkowski's administration commissioner, cited his 18 years in the state Legislature and said he is much more conservative than Sen. Murkowski and Knowles. He said he is anti-abortion and would join President Bush in his stand that marriage should be "between one man and one woman."
Sen. Murkowski, 46, defended what she called her conservative credentials. Critics have chided her for seemingly vacillating on abortion rights. As an Alaska House member two years ago, Murkowski voted against limiting state-funded abortions for poor women, while as a U.S. senator, she has voted with abortion opponents more often than not.
"There have been some who have suggested that I am not, quote, conservative enough," Murkowski said. "I would ask folks to look at my record in the U.S. Senate, my support for President Bush and the fact that I have voted against the $1.4 trillion in spending suggested by the Democrats."
Murkowski's father appointed her to his long-held seat under a state law that allows unexpired Senate terms of 212 years or less to be filled by gubernatorial appointment rather than special election.
Knowles said he was bothered by Miller's use of labels, calling himself conservative and his opponents liberals. Knowles, 61, also disagreed that his campaign against Murkowski will focus on nepotism. He said he looked forward to discussing issues important to Alaskans - including energy development, education and health care - with both Miller and Murkowski.
"The issue of how she got appointed she has to discuss with the voters," Knowles said. "That's not my issue. I'm interested in issues people care about."
Miller announced his intentions at a news conference held in front of a red, white and blue banner proclaiming "Mike Miller for U.S. Senate." He introduced his wife of 29 years, Susan, two daughters and their husbands and two grandchildren. The Millers own and operate Santa Claus House, a family business in North Pole, a town of 1,700 near Fairbanks.
"I'm a qualified business owner. I've met my bills in good times and bad times," Miller said. "I know how to get things done for my constituents."
Miller said he plans to raise between $400,000 and $500,000 for the primary. He's putting in $200,000 of his own money.
Murkowski already has raised nearly $2.5 million and Knowles has raised about $1.7 million.
Green Party candidate Jim Sykes said he welcomed Miller's candidacy and called on him to "get big money out of politics by accepting contributions from Alaskans only." Sykes, 54, has raised between $5,000 and $6,000.
"I look forward to debating the issues with Mike Miller and the other candidates so Alaskans can decide for themselves who best represents them," he said.