Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, stung by accusations of arrogance and stubbornness, lost his bid for a second term Tuesday after polling last in a three-way GOP primary.
Sarah Palin, a former Wasilla mayor, won the Republican nomination for governor after capturing 51 percent of the vote. Former state legislator John Binkley came in second with 30 percent and Murkowski polled just 19 percent.
“We expected to win, we didn’t win, so we’ll support the nominee,” Murkowski said after arriving at election headquarters to concede.
Tony Knowles, a former two-term governor, won the race to be the Democratic nominee for governor in the Nov. 7 general election. He beat state Rep. Eric Croft.
“I’m excited about what’s ahead,” Knowles said. “I want to bring Alaska together as a state. We face a lot of issues and I want to help overcome them.”
Elections also were held Tuesday in Wyoming and Oklahoma.
Falling approval ratings
Murkowski, 73, sought to make the primary a referendum on his proposal to build a $25 billion natural gas pipeline to Canada, calling the project “the greatest significant event since statehood.”
His approval ratings have skidded over the past four years because of much-criticized decisions such as appointing his daughter to his U.S. Senate seat and purchasing a state jet after his request for the aircraft was denied by both the federal government and state Legislature.
In the campaign’s final days, Murkowski also was stung by the partial shutdown of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, where production was cut in half earlier this month because of leaks and corrosion. The governor’s opponents accused his administration of allowing the oil company BP PLC to go years without proper maintenance of its facilities.
Murkowski pledged to hold BP accountable, but insisted state government should not be in the business of physically monitoring the company’s facilities.
On Tuesday, Murkowski shook Palin’s hand in the middle of a crowd of Palin’s supporters, all waving signs. “Congratulations, you’ve got my support. I’ll do everything to see that you’re elected,” Murkowski told Palin.
Alaska voters also decided Tuesday whether to adopt a $50 per-person tax on cruise ship passengers. Proponents want the industry to pay more for improving ports and other visitor services. The cruise industry spent nearly $2 million trying to defeat the measure. The yes vote was ahead with 56 percent of precincts reporting.
Fallin wins in Oklahoma
In Oklahoma, three-term Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin easily won the Republican nomination Tuesday in the race for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Ernest Istook.
Fallin defeated Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, and will be favored in the general election against Dr. David Hunter, the Democratic nominee, and independent Matthew Horton Woodson. All three hope to replace Istook, a Republican running for governor after seven terms in Congress.
With all precincts reporting, Fallin got 63 percent of the vote in the 5th Congressional District. “We’re going to continue to talk about our conservative message of faith, family and freedom,” she said.
She was the first woman and first Republican to be elected lieutenant governor and is bidding to become the first female congressman from Oklahoma since Alice Robertson was elected in 1920.
In Wyoming, popular incumbent Gov. Dave Freudenthal handily defeated challenger Al Hamburg for the Democratic nomination. Freudenthal received 89 percent of the vote against Hamburg, a retired house painter whose 1989 conviction for election fraud would have prevented him from holding office even if he won.
Ray Hunkins, an attorney and rancher, also was an easy winner on the Republican side over retiree John Self. And Republican Barbara Cubin, who holds Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat, held off a primary challenge from Bill Winney, a retired naval officer.