Lisa Murkowski appeared to have cleared her first hurdle Tuesday in the race to retain her seat as Alaska's junior U.S. senator, beating out three competitors in the Republican primary.
Preliminary poll results Tuesday night showed Murkowski, with 36,307 votes, leading the election after 68.79 percent of the state's precincts had reported. Murkowski held 57.8 percent of the vote to former state Sen. Mike Miller's 37.4 percent. Miller had 23,506 votes. Former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea of Anchorage was a distant third, gathering just 2,351 votes by the Empire's deadline.
Murkowski, 47, was appointed to the Senate seat in 2002 by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, after he returned to Alaska to become governor. She has faced charges of nepotism throughout the campaign from Republicans and Democrats.
"I'm very pleased with the numbers we have right now and the level of support we're seeing across the state," Murkowski said in a telephone interview from election central in Anchorage. "We've got 69 days until the general election and that's not a lot of time. We'll get up tomorrow morning and start going again."
She now faces former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, 61, who handily defeated two primary opponents. Knowles served two terms as governor and mayor of Anchorage for six years in the 1980s.
Knowles called his victory an important benchmark but said it would not change how he campaigns.
"I'm going to work hard, shake hands, talk to Alaskans, listen to Alaskans, and continue the message I've heard from so many Alaskans over the past month," he said.
No candidates in Juneau legislative races faced primary challenges. But several other Southeast seats were up for grabs.
The most hotly contested race in the Panhandle was over the House District 5 seat being vacated by Angoon Democratic Rep. Albert Kookesh, who is running for the state Senate. Four Democrats and three Republicans ran for the spot. With 13 of 18 precincts reporting at press time, Democrat Tim June of Haines appeared likely to face off against Republican Bill Thomas of Haines in the Nov. 2 general election. June held a strong lead over his opponents, while Thomas held a 132-vote lead over Gary Graham of Cordova.
"I did go around the district twice, but the other candidates were out there in force," June said, adding that he and his opponents agreed on many issues. "For some of the candidates this was their first race and they ran a hard race.
"I went into the district and worked on grassroots issues that are germane to the district."
With almost half of the districts reporting, Kookesh held the lead in the Democratic primary for Senate District C with 68.5 percent, over competitor Robert "Moose" Henrichs of Cordova, who had taken 31.4 percent.
Jim Elkins defeated fellow Ketchikan resident Jack Shay in the District 1 Republican primary. With eight of nine precincts counted at press time Tuesday night, Elkins held a 944-645 lead. The winner will face Ketchikan Democrat Dawn Allen-Herron in the general election.
"I was running against an ex-tax-and-spend-Democrat, and I'm still running against a tax-and-spend-Democrat," Elkins said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.