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Thursday, August 24, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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In Alaska, another chapter in incumbent backlash

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — The defeat of Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski in Alaska's Republican primary may have resulted from missteps throughout his first term, but vulnerable incumbents should take heed, political observers said Wednesday.

Murkowski was trounced in his party's primary Tuesday, finishing last in the three-way race. Former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin won with more than 50 percent of the vote and will face former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles in November.

Murkowski took 19 percent of the vote, "almost unprecedented for someone who is not indicted," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

Popular opinion turned on Murkowski after missteps that constantly thrust him into battle with political opponents and the Republican-led Legislature, including appointing his daughter to his U.S. Senate seat, unpopular budget cuts his first year and a highly publicized fight to buy a state jet. Critics also denounced him for not seeking more public comment on a multibillion-dollar tax deal with major oil companies intended to fund a natural-gas pipeline to the lower 48 states.

The governor spent 22 years in the Senate before becoming governor, and Sabato said he may not have been used to the spotlight of state politics.

"Being a senator is easy. You're not covered daily, much less hourly," Sabato said. "He never believed he could be beaten, and that's why he was beaten so badly."

The Alaska governor is the fourth incumbent this month to be unseated in a major primary. Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and Republican Rep. Joe Schwarz of Michigan also lost their primaries.

Sheila Krumholz, acting executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics, said time will tell if the losses are a trend.

"At this point in the cycle, there is a sense of kind of a potential for big problems for the GOP and opportunities for the Democrats," Krumholz said. "That can change so quickly, though."

Information on the pipeline was reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Lieberman qualifies for November ballot

HARTFORD, Conn. — Sen. Joe Lieberman, who relaunched his campaign as an independent after losing the Democratic primary, has enough valid voter signatures to secure a spot on the November ballot, a state official said Wednesday.

Lieberman exceeded the 7,500 signatures necessary to be certified as a third-party candidate, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz said.

His name will appear on the general election ballot under his newly created party, Connecticut for Lieberman. By creating the party, Lieberman secured a position higher on the ballot than he would have had as an independent.

Lieberman lost the Aug. 8 Democratic primary to Ned Lamont, a multimillionaire businessman who criticized Lieberman for his support of the Iraq war and perceived closeness to President Bush.

The day after the primary, Lieberman submitted petitions to create his own political party and to appear on the ballot along with Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger.

An American Research Group poll released Tuesday showed Lieberman and Lamont about even among likely voters, with Lieberman receiving 44 percent, Lamont 42 percent and Schlesinger 3 percent.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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