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ANCHORAGE - Lt. Gov. Loren Leman announced Tuesday that he's supporting the candidacy of Mike Miller for U.S. Senate, and in doing so he refused a request by a member of Gov. Frank Murkowski's staff to endorse his daughter in the August primary.
Leman declined to identify the staff member who made the request. He said the governor never directly asked him for an endorsement. But he said they had discussed the election several times, with the most recent conversation occurring about a week or 10 days ago.
The governor would not be "terribly surprised" by his decision to back Miller, Leman said.
"We do not always agree and this is one of those issues," Leman said at a news conference in Anchorage.
When asked about Leman's endorsement, Murkowski spokesman John Manly said, "Our reaction is we have no comment."
The governor appointed his 46-year-old daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to fill out his Senate term when he became governor. Leman said the senator also never asked for his endorsement.
Miller, a conservative Republican from North Pole, has said the issue of nepotism would doom Murkowski in the race against Democratic candidate Tony Knowles, a former governor, because both are liberals.
At the news conference, Miller portrayed himself as a "trusted conservative," particularly on issues of gun rights, abortion and taxes.
Miller has more experience than Sen. Lisa Murkowski and can do a better job of uniting Alaskans to defeat Knowles, Leman said.
If Murkowski wins the primary, Leman said, he would support the Republican senator in the election.
Leman said during the eight years that Knowles was governor, Knowles tried to block just about every Republican initiative but was not successful because of the work of Miller and other like-minded Republicans, including himself.
"Mike, thank you for your service to Alaska," Leman said.
While in the Legislature, they worked on issues that showed they shared the same values, Leman said. One of those issues resulted in an amendment to the Alaska Constitution defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. The amendment means that, "We are not having to deal in Alaska with what Massachusetts is dealing with today," Leman said.
If Miller is elected to the U.S. Senate, Leman said, he does not believe he will have to call Miller and remind him how to vote.
Miller said if Lisa Murkowski wins, there will be less certainty on a number of issues, including whether she supports increased taxes. He said while in the Legislature she came out in support of a state income tax but while in Washington, D.C., has supported President Bush's tax breaks.
"The voters will have to ask which Lisa Murkowski are they going to get?" Miller said.
The criticism is unfounded, said Murkowski campaign spokesman Elliott Bundy.
"She has proven to be a fiscal conservative voting for President Bush's tax cuts in keeping money in the pockets of Alaskans where it is better spent," he said.
Bundy said Murkowski's level of experience also is a non-issue.
"If we are looking at experience in Alaska, I think you are hard-pressed to find anyone with more experience than Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She was born here," he said.
Polls point to a close contest in what is considered a nationally important race because a Democratic victory could upset the Republican majority in the Senate. Democrats have not held a Senate seat in Alaska in more than two decades.