updated 6/9/2004 5:09:13 PM ET 2004-06-09T21:09:13

Like most Alaska politicians, Tony Knowles’ support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was unquestioned when he was governor.

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But now that he’s running for the U.S. Senate, an ad paid for by a national Republican organization suggests he would join forces with anti-drilling Democrats if Alaskans send him to Washington.

The TV commercial has Alaskans on both sides of the political aisle steaming.

The ad, paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, begins with video footage of a caribou, then shows a photo of Knowles alongside photos of Sens. Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, both Massachusetts Democrats who, it claims, “wouldn’t know a caribou if it dropped in for a bowl of Boston clam chowder.”

Both Kerry and Kennedy oppose drilling for oil in the refuge, which is featured in the ad in stylized postcards. Knowles, a Democrat, remains a strong advocate for drilling in the refuge; fully 85 percent of state revenues come from the oil industry.

Dan Allen, a spokesman for the Republican group, said last week the ad was designed to counter a biographical ad by Knowles.

On Tuesday, Anchorage business and labor representatives denounced the ad, saying it was misleading and negative.

Michael Orr, a business analyst who described himself as a conservative, said he would criticize the negative campaign strategy no matter who it targeted.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the negative ads,” he said. “The ads represent outside interests that are attempting to cloud the issues.”

No mention of Murkowski
The ads do not mention U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of three Republicans seeking her party’s nomination for the office. Appointed to the job by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, she’s running against challengers Mike Miller, a former state Senate president from North Pole, and Wev Shea, a former U.S. attorney for Alaska.

Murkowski last week denied any involvement with the advertisements.

Elliott Bundy, her spokesman, contended Tuesday that the ads were not factually incorrect. He said there were no plans to ask the National Republican Senatorial Committee to stop them.

Like Orr, Eric Britten, former chairman of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, said the ad falsely links Knowles with East Coast opponents of development.

Knowles said last week that there was “no place in either campaign for these ads.”

Paul Weisenberger of the Sheet Metal Workers International said the ads could sway uninformed voters.

“They deserve the truth,” Weisenberger said. “They deserve the facts.”

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