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Gubernatorial race may attract national money

Outside groups often spend dollars during high-profile campaigns

Posted: Thursday, June 01, 2006

FAIRBANKS - The past two statewide campaign seasons have been flush with money from outside Alaska but political consultants disagree on the outlook for the gubernatorial race this year.

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Gov. Frank Murkowski and former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, who within the last week declared their intentions to seek the governor's chair, both have drawn major Outside support and opposition in the past.

"You're going to see a lot of money" again this year, said Art Hackney, a Republican political consultant in Anchorage. "I think Alaska is on everybody's radar."

Joe Rothstein, a Washington, D.C., Democratic consultant with Alaska ties, disagreed.

"My sense is that most interest will be on whether or not the Democrats can take back the (U.S.) House or Senate or both," Rothstein said. "I believe what we're looking at here is pretty much a localized or regional race without much national impact."

Two other factors will limit the role of Outside groups in Alaska, Rothstein said.

With the two most familiar statewide names just entering the race, the campaign season has been abbreviated. Also, campaign laws may limit what Outside groups can do, he said.

The Legislature changed state law in 2002, said Chris Ellingson, assistant director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission. The revised law distinguishes between three types of communication: electioneering, express and issue, she said.

Hackney said the law is "totally confusing to everybody" but Outside groups will find ways to work within its bounds.

Third-party advertisers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in Alaska at key points during past high-profile campaign years. They do not identify where they get the money because, they argue, they are engaged in nonprofit educational efforts, not campaigning.

Their ads often attack one candidate's record but do not overtly endorse any other candidate.

Knowles in 2004 ran for U.S. Senate and was attacked by third-party Outside groups, including the Americans for Job Security, which early in its existence drew backing from large business associations.

Murkowski ran for governor in 2002 and had a similar experience. In late September and early October that year, the American Small Business Alliance bought 1,820 television spots criticizing Murkowski's record in the U.S. Senate.

Political parties stepped in to counter some of that spending. The state Republican Party launched a counteroffensive to defend Murkowski in 2002 and the national Democratic Party showered the state with money to help Knowles in 2004.

Representatives from the national parties said Tuesday they cannot play a large role until voters sort out the candidates in the August primary.

On the Republican side, former state Sen. John Binkley of Fairbanks and former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin have been campaigning hard against Murkowski.

"The Republican Governors Association exists to support Republican candidates for governor and spends money in accordance with state campaign finance laws," said spokesman Rob Van Raaphorst. "Historically, we spent money in Alaska, but we evaluate each race based on need and competitiveness."



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