ANCHORAGE -- Two leading candidates to be Alaska's next governor are taking extra care with their travel plans these days.
U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski bought his own airline ticket from Washington, D.C., to Alaska last weekend. Murkowski flew to Anchorage for a mix of Senate business and a Saturday night fund-raising reception.
Murkowski said he paid for the Alaska visit to keep a clear line between Senate business paid for by taxpayer dollars and trips he'll take to stump for governor, which by law must be financed by his campaign.
Murkowski said the challenge of balancing his Senate duties in the nation's capital with the demands of his campaign for governor in Alaska will be no different than in his Senate re-election campaigns.
"There's no magic to it. This is obviously a different race but the same situation," he said.
Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, the leading Democrat in the race so far, traveled to Fairbanks last weekend.
Ulmer made plans two months ago to stand in for Gov. Tony Knowles at a Saturday night dinner held by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Reached by telephone Saturday, she said she originally had planned to put the trip on the state's tab.
Ulmer said she changed her mind Saturday and decided to pay for the trip because a Sunday brunch could involve campaign activities. She plans to consult a state ethics adviser today about the general guidelines to follow for trips that may involve both.
"I would rather err on the side of correctness, err on the side of keeping the line as clear as possible," she said.
With Election Day still a year away, both candidates say they'll maintain their focus on their current roles as elected officials, taking time out to campaign where and when they can.
Murkowski plans to come to Alaska when Congress is in recess. He said he hopes to use the media to get his message across, along with a campaign team he announced Friday co-chaired by Nancy Bear Usera of Anchorage, chief executive of the Alaska USA Federal Credit Union and former commissioner of the state Department of Administration under Gov. Walter Hickel, and Oliver Leavitt of Barrow, chairman of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp.
Ulmer said she plans to lean heavily on volunteers. She hopes Murkowski will agree to debates despite the travel time from Washington. Her campaign team includes staffer Sam Shepherd in Anchorage; Deborah Bonito, former chairwoman of the state Democratic Party; and treasurer Eleanor Andrews, an Anchorage businesswoman and former commissioner of the state Department of Administration during Gov. Bill Sheffield's administration.
Two other candidates have filed with the state Division of Elections: Anchorage Democrat Bruce Lemke and Don Wright, a Fairbanks man running on the Alaskan Independent ticket after an unsuccessful run as a Democrat in 1998.
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