FAIRBANKS - With former Gov. Tony Knowles and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski declaring their candidacy for the seat Murkowski holds, the question on political minds becomes "Who else?"
Democrats expect Knowles to be their only serious candidate. Republicans, however, are waiting to see whether Fairbanks businessman John Binkley, Anchorage union leader Jerry Hood or former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin will file for their party's nomination.
Binkley and Hood said Wednesday they are considering a run as Republicans in the August 2004 primary. Palin could not be reached for comment.
Hood said he would decide by the end of the month. Binkley said he has not set a deadline.
Murkowski has said she hopes to avoid a primary fight, though she acknowledged there is a lot of talk about opposition.
"I am working with Republicans in the state to convince them that I'm doing a good job, not only for Republicans but all Alaskans," Murkowski said.
Binkley and Hood said Murkowski has not asked them to sit out. Hood said he does not mind Murkowski's advocacy of a single name on the primary ballot.
"I'd do the same thing," he said.
Binkley said Murkowski should not discourage other candidates.
"I think the primary process serves an important function" by publicizing a candidate's ideas and effectiveness, he said.
Murkowski, who was appointed by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, in December, said she has raised about $900,000 for her campaign.
Hood, head of the Teamsters local, said he is not worried. He said he still has commitments of financial backing he received last year when Gov. Murkowski was considering him as an appointee to the position.
Binkley, a former state lawmaker, an owner of the Riverboat Discovery tour company and chairman of the Alaska Railroad board, said he is not worried either, even though some say a competitive race will require up to $3 million.
"I'm not sure that that amount of money is necessary to win an election in Alaska," he said. "It's more the person, and what they stand for, and the ideas they bring forward."
Democrats, watching on the sidelines, predict Murkowski will have opposition.
"I don't see how she comes out without a contested primary," said Joelle Hall, the Alaska Democratic Party's treasurer in Anchorage. That's because the new senator is too moderate for many in the Republican Party, she said.
Debbie Joslin of Delta Junction, the Republican national committeewoman from Alaska, said she can't take sides, but would not discourage a primary challenger. Along with Hood and Binkley, she said she had heard Palin's candidacy described as a strong possibility.
"Her name was hot as sliced bread," Joslin said.
Joslin said conservatives' concerns about Murkowski, voiced at the time of her appointment, remain. Joslin cited the senator's vote earlier this year for an amendment that expressed support for the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision upholding abortion rights.
The amendment was tacked onto a bill that would outlaw partial-birth abortions, for which Murkowski also voted.
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