Former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles faces a variety of obstacles in the race for U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the major hurdle being his party affiliation.
Political observers often refer to Knowles' charmed political career in Alaska because of two victories with thin margins that won him two terms as governor from 1994 to 2002. Knowles also served two terms as mayor of Anchorage.
He has shown a slight lead in a recent poll by Ivan Moore, but his lead of 1.6 percent does not cover the margin of error.
Knowles, 61, has refuted claims by his opponent tying him to high-profile U.S. Sens. Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
He has distanced himself throughout the campaign from Kerry, who has adamantly opposed drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a project Knowles supports. A recent television commercial against Knowles by the Republican Party says a vote for Knowles is a vote against Alaska's senior U.S. senator, Ted Stevens. With the U.S. Senate split, the Republicans holding 51 seats, Stevens would lose his chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee next year if Democrats become the majority party.
Knowles deflected the criticisms, saying the majority party has changed half a dozen times during Stevens' tenure. Matt McKenna, a Knowles spokesman, pointed to an Associated Press story in 2001, when Republicans lost majority control of the Senate, following the defection of then-Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont.
"When I think back on the things we've done, we've accomplished as much in the minority as we have in the majority," Stevens was quoted saying.
Knowles, a former Vietnam veteran who served in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, has said throughout the campaign that he will push for legislation to fully fund veterans' health care. He also supports allowing seniors access to cheap prescription drugs from Canada.
Knowles has raised about $3.1 million in the campaign but lags behind Murkowski by more than $600,000. Knowles has spent about $2.3 million on the campaign so far.
A recent campaign expenditure might cost him more than the price of television air time. A recent commercial by Knowles claims that a corporate tax bill Murkowski supported in the Senate creates a $6.5 billion tax break for the oil company ExxonMobil. Knowles said the alleged tax break should be used to pay damages from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
Murkowski and the oil company have said that ExxonMobil will see no benefit from the provision because the company already pays a large amount of income tax to foreign governments, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Knowles stuck by his claim on Friday, saying: "The facts speak for themselves." During his time as governor, Knowles said, he made several attempts while serving as governor to resolve the issue with Exxon Chairman Lee Raymond.
"His reply was, 'It will be settled in the courts,' " Knowles said.
Knowles said he would work to find a solution for Juneau and the Native organization Cape Fox Corp. over the controversial land trade involving Berners Bay, just north of Juneau. The bill, sponsored by Murkowski and her father before her, would trade land in the popular recreational area near Berners Bay for land owned by Cape Fox Corp. that is mostly logged.
Knowles accused Murkowski of "dusting off the same bill Frank Murkowski tried to push through the Senate" and creating a political wedge between Juneau and Cape Fox Corp.
He said the Native organization should have its land claims fulfilled, but added that Cape Fox and Juneau should find a solution together.
"I will work out a solution that doesn't pit a Native corporation against a community," Knowles said. "(Murkowski's bill) failed a first time and it should have stayed in the cemetery."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.
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