The race to be Alaska's governor appears to be taking an edgier tone just 43 days before the Nov. 7 election.
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Their primary campaigns largely focused on battering incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski's record, but since then Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Tony Knowles have stuck to the high ground: Each stating his or her positions on issues from a natural gas pipeline to ethics reform.
But recent sniping between the two major-party candidates over out-of-state money indicates those running the campaigns are sharpening their knives.
"I hope it doesn't get there," said Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Palin. But if it does, he added, "Sarah's up to the fight."
Last week, the Knowles campaign took a swipe at Palin for television ads that are paid for by the Republican Governors Association and are running in Alaska. This week, Knowles followed up by saying he wants Outside money to "butt out" of the Alaska election.
The Knowles and Palin camps were quick to exchange barbs, each accusing the other of hypocrisy for taking or condoning the use of "outside money" now or in the past.
Knowles' spokeswoman Patty Ginsburg said the campaign's strategy was to compare Knowles' and Palin's goals and plans, not to attack Palin.
"A lot of times, people label as an attack something that doesn't make them look good," Ginsburg said. "Anytime you're dealing with facts, that's fair and that's clean. Just because you don't like the message doesn't make it unfair."
Independent candidate Andrew Halcro said he had expected Knowles' campaign to go after Palin sooner or later to make up some ground against the popular former Wasilla mayor.
"I think you see Tony Knowles looking at the polls and he doesn't want to make the same mistake that John Binkley did and Frank Murkowski did, and wait until the 11th hour to question Sarah Palin," Halcro said.
Murkowski and Binkley, a Fairbanks businessman, lost to Palin in the Aug. 22 Republican primary.
The Knowles campaign calculated the Republican Governors Association is spending more than $100,000 on television ad buys in Alaska that support Palin. That amount was confirmed by association spokeswoman Lindsay Sweetin on Monday.
Ginsburg said she was not suggesting collusion between Palin's campaign and the 527 group, which would be illegal.
A "527 group" refers to a section of tax law such political organizations fall under. A 527 group can accept unlimited donations for voter mobilization and issue advertisements but cannot endorse specific candidates.
Ginsburg said it was hypocritical of Palin to tout her grass-roots campaign while condoning support from an out-of-state, big-money group.
"We're interested in pointing out that what she says and what she does doesn't always jibe," Ginsburg said.
The Alaska Democratic Party announced Tuesday it intended to file a complaint with the Alaska Public Offices Commission about the Republican Governors' Association advertisement. The Democrats say "it is evident that the candidate or her campaign consulted or cooperated with the RGA in making the ad."
Smith said the group bought those ads with no coordination with the Palin campaign. Charlie Spies, general counsel for the Republican Governors Association, said they are independent advertisements and any allegation of collusion with the Palin campaign is "completely baseless."
Smith said the Knowles campaign is the one being hypocritical and that the former governor had taken Democratic Governors' Association money when he ran for governor in the 1990s.
"It's unfortunate they feel that this is the best shot they've got," Smith said. "They want to nibble around the edges and do a 'gotcha' on Sarah when I can tell you there is no 'gotcha' to get."
Meanwhile, Halcro has entered the fray with new television commercials that indirectly criticize the other candidates' political stands and ideas - or their lack of them.
The ads feature people looking into the camera and saying things like "I want a governor who had eight years to fix education but didn't" - a shot at Knowles - and "I want a governor who says she takes a stand but doesn't" - a knock at Palin.
The ads end with Halcro saying if voters are fed up with politics and politicians today, to change it in November.
Halcro said if the race between the two major-party candidates goes negative this early, he could be the one to benefit from possible voter fallout on Nov. 7.
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