Negatives don't stick as Sen. Murkowski wins

Challenger Knowles stops short of formally conceding defeat

Posted: Thursday, November 04, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Just call her Teflon Lisa.

Alaskans frown on the way Sen. Lisa Murkowski got her job and criticize how her father, the governor who appointed her, is handling his. An initiative to strike down temporary Senate appointments provided a subplot to the race as it appeared on the same ballot Tuesday - and passed.

None of it stuck.

The Republican kept her seat Tuesday, buoyed by heavy campaigning in the final weeks by the rest of Alaska's congressional delegation for her.

Murkowski had 49 percent to Democrat Tony Knowles' 45 percent, a lead of more than 11,000 votes. Knowles called Murkowski to congratulate her but stopped short of formally conceding defeat Wednesday. He said he wanted to let the democratic process run its course to ensure that every vote is counted.

The star power of Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young may have been the difference in the election, said University of Alaska Anchorage political science associate professor Carl Shepro.

Radio, television and print ads in the final weeks leading to the election repeated mantra-like that a vote for Democratic candidate Tony Knowles was a vote against Stevens' ability to keep his committee chairmanships and bring federal money and projects to Alaska. The truth of those claims has been disputed, but the impact was seen in the election, Shepro said.

"I do think that this blizzard of ads has really had an impact," Shepro said. "I think they really turned a lot of people around."

Murkowski, when asked about Stevens' and Young's influence on the elections, said at a Wednesday news conference that Alaskans respected their congressional delegation.

"We operate as a team when we're in Washington, D.C., and when we campaign we work together as a team," she said. "It took everybody working together."

Murkowski was appointed to fill the remainder of Frank Murkowski's term when he was elected governor in 2002, an appointment that spurred allegations of nepotism and factored into the race against Knowles, a two-term governor.

About 60 percent of voters called Sen. Murkowski's appointment inappropriate, according to an Associated Press exit poll taken Tuesday as Alaskans left their voting precincts. Those who disapproved crossed just about all demographics - rich and poor, rural and city dwellers, white and Alaska Native.

The only groups in which a majority said the appointment was appropriate were those over 65 or those who considered themselves Republican or conservative. Moderate, independent and liberal voters strongly disapproved.

But more than a third of those who rapped her appointment voted for her anyway, and Murkowski defeated Knowles by 4 percentage points.

The poll of 1,148 Alaska voters was conducted for AP and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, higher for subgroups.

The poll showed Murkowski did well among men, military veterans, Christians, people with family incomes of $50,000 or more and voters older than 60. She also received a boost from President Bush's strong showing in the state - about three-quarters of those who said they voted for Bush also voted for Murkowski.

Knowles did better with women, Alaska Natives and other minorities, the very poor and nonreligious voters, the poll shows.

The vacancy initiative, which abolishes the governor's ability to temporarily fill Senate vacancies, passed with about 55 percent of the vote.

Opponents of the proposition accused the initiative's sponsors of using the measure as a campaign tool against Murkowski. Backers of the measure said the initiative was not about Murkowski, but that its opponents had made it so.

But in the end, the initiative did not make a difference.

Neither did the bad marks her father received in the AP poll now at the halfway point of his term as governor. About 60 percent of voters polled said they disapproved of the job Gov. Murkowski has done. Nearly a third of those voters went for Sen. Murkowski on Tuesday, according to the poll.

The governor has been criticized for unpopular decisions such as removing the state's so-called longevity bonus for seniors and recommending using a portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund for state programs.

He kept in the background throughout his daughter's campaign.

"I don't think that he would have helped her at all," Shepro said.

The governor's spokeswoman, Becky Hultberg, said the governor was pleased with the results of Tuesday's election - in both national and state races - but that it was not a referendum on his performance.

She dismissed the poll findings.

"The governor is not focused on polls, he's not focused on the election," Hultberg said.

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