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ANCHORAGE - Republican U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski and Democratic Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer claimed their places at the top of their tickets Tuesday, easily winning over lesser-known opponents in Alaska's primary election.
With nearly 90 percent of votes counted, Ulmer had 25,598 votes, or 92 percent, of the Democratic vote. Her closest contenders, Michael Beasley and Bruce J. Lemke, each garnered less than 5 percent.
On the Republican side, Murkowski had 43,798 votes, or just under 70 percent of the total, followed by Wayne Anthony Ross with 27 percent. Brad Snowden had 2 percent and Eric E. Wieler 1 percent.
In the Alaskan Independence Party primary, Don Wright was the apparent winner with 806 votes, or 35 percent of those cast. Second in the six-way race was Nels Anderson, a former Democratic lawmaker, with 629 ballots, or 27 percent, of the AIP votes.
In three uncontested races, the Green Party's Erica "Desa" Jacobsson won 1,203 votes, Libertarian Billy Toien got 452 votes, and Republican Moderate Dawn Mendias collected 398 votes for governor. All three will appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot against Wright, Murkowski and Ulmer.
From the start, most of the election's attention was on Murkowski and Ulmer.
"We had a nice turnout tonight," Murkowski said after being declared the Republican winner. "I clearly think the majority of Alaskans want to see a change in Juneau."
Ulmer, who received the endorsement of the Alaska Democratic Party and several unions, set herself apart from other candidates by saying new taxes would be needed to bridge the state's near-billion-dollar budget shortfall.
"What I am hearing from voters is that they want a candidate who levels with them," Ulmer said about her position on taxes. "We all want the economy to grow ... but that doesn't answer the question of how we're going to balance the books."
Ulmer's economic plan includes pushing for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope, revamping Alaska's fishing industry, and expanding research and opportunities in the state university system. Her education plan includes standards-based teaching and testing, inflation-proofing the state's education funding formula and increasing teacher pay.
Julie Anderson, a project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Elmendorf Air Force Base, said she voted for Ulmer because she feels she is most in touch with Alaska issues. She said Murkowski should remain in Washington, D.C.
"I think he has a responsibility to us in Congress and he should stay there," she said.
Murkowski, who received the support of the Alaska Teamsters and the United Fishermen of Alaska, said he would not support new taxes, but would instead use budget cuts and creating high-paying jobs in the oil and gas field to help solve Alaska's budget woes.
Murkowski said if elected governor he would make public safety a top concern. He also vowed in his first year to create mine project teams within the Department of Natural Resources to coordinate state and federal agencies and expedite the permitting process for mines.
Saige Chandler, 26, who works in Anchorage with people with mental disabilities, said she voted for Murkowski because of the good job he's been doing as senator for Alaska.
"If it's not broke don't fix it," she said after voting in Peters Creek north of Anchorage. "He is really conservative and I like that."
Ross, an Anchorage attorney, complained that it had been difficult for him to get the attention of the Republicans when running against Murkowski. According to Alaska Public Offices Commission records, Murkowski's fund-raising totals approached $1 million. Ross raised less than $90,000.
Ulmer had raised more than $955,000.
Ross lost his party's nomination in 1998 to John Lindauer when he and Wrangell Sen. Robin Taylor each garnered about 16 percent of the vote. He said if he lost the primary, he wouldn't run again.
"It was a great honor to be a viable candidate for governor. It is obvious people think I make a better lawyer than governor," he said.
The Alaskan Independence Party primary was the most crowded race in the battle for governor.
Wright is a Fairbanks resident and Native rights activist making his eighth run for governor. In a recent interview, he said he does not agree with the party's lack of support for a rural preference for subsistence uses of fish and game and for Native sovereignty. As a result, the AIP may not support Wright, said party Chairman Mark Chryson.
Other AIP candidates were John Wayne Glotfelty, Casey Cockerham, Samuel Acevedo Fevos Sr. and Harold A. "Sandy" Haldane.