A public opinion survey released this week by an Anchorage pollster shows Lisa Murkowski winning the Republican primary for U.S. Senate this month.
But if the numbers by Ivan Moore Research remain steady through November, she'll have to pick up a few more points to beat her Democratic challenger, Tony Knowles.
Moore, a pollster who commonly works for Democrats, conducted the survey in early August for Anchorage television station KTUU.
The poll showed incumbent Sen. Murkowski winning the primary with 63.1 percent and Mike Miller of North Pole taking second place with 28.5 percent. Republican candidates Wev Shea and Jim Dore, both of Anchorage, pulled in a total of 3.6 percent.
Moore said Shea, a former U.S. attorney for Alaska, could pick up more than the polls suggest because of a recently launched television ad campaign. But it likely will not earn him enough support to win the Aug. 24 primary.
Moore said it would be a tough run for Shea, who has little name recognition and virtually no base constituency.
"Lisa's locked up the left of the Republican voting population and Mike Miller has locked up the right, and there's no room left in the middle," Moore said.
Democratic former governor Knowles polled 46.1 percent in a general election race against Murkowski, who came in a close second with 43.9 percent. But with a 2 percent to 4 percent margin of error, the election still is anyone's game, Moore said.
Elliott Bundy, a spokesman for the Murkowski campaign, said the poll results are exactly where campaign officials thought they would be at this time in the election season.
"Going into it we thought it would be close down to the last day and we think it will be," he said.
Moore said negative campaign ads from Miller pegging Murkowski as too liberal and Knowles ads criticizing her for opposing prescription drug purchases from Canada have hurt her approval rating, which has dropped from 57.4 percent in June to 49.7 percent in August.
"I think he's right in that we're getting hit from all sides right now," Bundy said.
He said both claims are patently false, but added: "Drugs coming in from Canada do not guarantee safety."
Matt McKenna, a spokesman for the Knowles campaign, said it is the ninth poll by Moore showing a close race between Murkowski and Knowles. He said the only poll that's important, though, is the one on election day.
Similar to Bundy, McKenna accused the competing party of negative campaigning. Earlier this year Knowles promised to denounce third-party attack ads, but then failed to do so when ads attacking Murkowski began appearing on television.
"Sen. Murkowski is attacking Knowles on the radio and attacking Knowles and Miller at the same time on the television," McKenna said. "Dating back to January of this year Tony Knowles has several times offered to Sen. Murkowski to denounce these types of ads. Our friends and allies are not going to sit idly by while her Washington friends distort his record."
Mike Pauley, campaign manager for Mike Miller, said the campaign is focusing on conservative strongholds in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Kenai Peninsula.
"We think the more conservative voters are going to turn out, and that's going to be to Mike Miller's benefit," Pauley said.
He said public opinion polls can be fickle and noted that no one predicted the 15-point victory of Republican Frank Murkowski over Democrat Fran Ulmer in the 2002 gubernatorial election.
"With all due respect to Ivan Moore, he's been doing polling for Democrats," Pauley said. "He underestimates how conservative the electorate is."
Pauley denied rumors that Miller plans to run for governor in 2006.
Moore said he too has heard speculation that Miller will run for governor on the Republican ticket. Miller gave up his job as commissioner of the state Department of Administration to run against Sen. Murkowski.
"He gave up a good job for whatever reasons he had and filed to run in a race that he privately must have considered a long shot," Moore said.
He noted that in his last five polls Miller's recognition rating has increased significantly. He said Miller will be almost universally known throughout the state by the Aug. 24 primary. That puts him in a good position to seek another statewide office, Moore said.
"It's rumor and speculation and it's unfounded," Pauley said. "Mike is in this race to win."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.