ANCHORAGE - Democratic Senate candidate Tony Knowles wasted no time beginning his campaign for the November general election, unveiling a list Wednesday of more than 450 Alaska Republicans who have pledged support.
One day after taking 95 percent of the vote against token opposition, the two-term former governor said he will continue to stress issues over partisanship. He appeared at a news conference with eight registered Republicans to make the point.
"We believe in Alaska first - beyond whatever political party one might belong to," Knowles said.
Knowles will square off against incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Anchorage, Green Party candidate Jim Sykes of Palmer, plus Libertarian, Alaskan Independence and nonpartisan candidates.
Former Anchorage School Board member and Republican Carol Stolpe said she felt proud when Murkowski was picked for the Senate seat. But Murkowski's votes on health, education, veterans and other issues indicate she has not provided the independent leadership or principles she exhibited in the state House, Stolpe said.
"I think when Tony goes to Washington, he's going to represent the people of this state and not be tied to anyone else's agenda," Stolpe said.
Stolpe said she had little faith that Murkowski would push for change in the No Child Left Behind law, a signature piece of legislation for President Bush that critics say has not been a good fit for Alaska schools.
"I have every confidence that when we send Tony to the Senate that the No Child Left Behind Act is going to be revisited in a very specific, in-depth way," Stolpe said.
Laddie Shaw, fresh off his Republican primary defeat for a state House seat from south Anchorage, said he also would support Knowles.
"He's been a friend for 25 years and a fellow Vietnam vet, and I thank him very much for his service," Shaw said.
Ed Spradling, a vice president for a telecommunications company, cited veterans' issues.
"I think it's an extremely important issue with the young folks we have committed today in the service of their country," Spradling said. "They need to know we're behind them, and Tony represents that 100 percent."
Red Kinney, an Anchorage real estate businessman, said he has known Knowles since his days in Anchorage municipal politics. Kinney described himself as a "redneck Republican" and said his decision to publicly support Knowles might offend some of his friends.
"Tony's been around a long time," he said. "I'm really appreciative of all the stuff he's done."
Murkowski's appointment to the Senate by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, also bothered him, he said.
Knowles said some Republicans on the list are people he's known for years. Some contacted him over specific issues.
"Some called and said, 'I've had it and we need a change,"' he said.
With 426 of 439 Alaska precincts reporting, Knowles had taken 34,962 votes.
In the Republican primary, Murkowski pulled in 38,653 votes, or 58 percent. Runner-up Mike Miller, the former state Senate president, received 24,575 votes, or 37 percent, and former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea of Anchorage received 2,492 votes, or 4 percent.
Knowles said he was optimistic about his chances despite the 69,383 cast in the Republican primary. He indicated he would have picked up votes if registered Republicans had seen his name on an open primary ballot.
"People don't have access to the ballots that they want," he said.
He expects people to get more interested as the general election approaches.
"This is when people start to pay attention to the issues in depth," he said.