updated 8/25/2004 6:14:56 AM ET 2004-08-25T10:14:56

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, appointed to the U.S. Senate by her father the governor, won the Republican primary to keep her seat. She will next face former two-term Gov. Tony Knowles in the fall.

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With 75 percent of precincts reporting, Murkowski led former state Senate President Mike Miller by 37,344 votes, or 58 percent, to 24,087, or 37 percent. Wev Shea, former U.S. attorney for Alaska, was in third place with 2,418 votes, or 3.7 percent.

“I’m pleased with the level of support I’ve received from Republicans all across the state, pleased to have this phase of the campaign over and ready to start the second part,” Murkowski said early Wednesday.

Murkowski will now take on Knowles, a popular Democrat whose presence in the race has transformed heavily GOP Alaska into an unlikely battleground in the fight for control of the Senate.

Knowles faced token opposition Tuesday. With more than three-fourths of precincts reporting, the former governor had 31,523 votes, or 95 percent, easily outdistancing Don Wright, a 72-year-old retiree and former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, with 801 votes, or 2.5 percent.

“I’m going to work hard, shake hands, talk to Alaskans, listen to Alaskans, and continue the message I’ve heard from so many Alaskans over the past month,” he said, adding that he would focus on jobs, health care and education.

Murkowski’s victory was her first test in a statewide election. She is a former state lawmaker who was appointed to the Senate in 2002 by her father, newly elected Gov. Frank Murkowski. He gave his seat to his daughter after the Legislature changed state law to allow the new governor and not the incumbent — Knowles in this case — to fill Senate vacancies.

Murkowski’s challengers made nepotism an issue in the race, along with attacking her credentials as a conservative. Miller, 53, claimed that before joining the Senate, Murkowski backed gun control, abortion rights, and tax increases.

Knowles, 61, and Murkowski, 47, are two of the biggest political names in Alaska.

Knowles served as mayor of Anchorage for six years in the 1980s and was governor from 1994 to 2002. Murkowski served in the Legislature for four years before being appointed to the Senate.

The debate over opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling became a prominent issue in the race. Most Alaskans support opening the refuge, and both Knowles and Murkowski back drilling.

Murkowski has been endorsed by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who made a campaign appearance in Anchorage. She’s also gotten the blessing of Alaska’s senior senator, Ted Stevens.

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