ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Republican Lisa Murkowski (search) earned a term in the Senate in her own right Wednesday, defeating popular former Gov. Tony Knowles (search) and overcoming the commotion that arose when her father, the governor, appointed her to fill his Senate term.
With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Murkowski had 49.5 percent to Knowles' 45 percent.
The Murkowski victory means Republicans will hold 55 seats in the Senate next year.
The contest was one of the most competitive Senate campaigns in the country, featuring accusations of nepotism and charges that Knowles was too liberal for conservative Alaskans.
The election was Murkowski's first time before the voters, and she managed to overcome naysayers who remained convinced that she unfairly gained the job because of her family ties. Her most ardent foes placed bumper stickers on their vehicles that read: "Yo, Lisa! Who's yer daddy?!"
"What we see here, folks, is Alaskans speaking up and saying thank you for running a good campaign," Murkowski said. "It's been an honor working for you as Alaskans and it's something I look forward to doing for six more years."
Murkowski, a 47-year-old former state lawmaker, was appointed by Gov. Frank Murkowski (search) to the Senate seat he vacated when he was elected governor in 2002. The appointment was made possible by a change in state law enacted by the Legislature that year.
Nepotism was such an issue this year that more than 50,000 voters signed petitions for an initiative on Tuesday's ballot to require Senate vacancies be filled by special election. The measure was approved.
Despite the controversy, Murkowski had strong name recognition, the power of incumbency and history on her side — Alaska is heavily Republican and has not sent a Democrat to Washington in 30 years.
Murkowski had the high-profile endorsement of time GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, who called her "a hell of a lot better senator than her dad ever was." She also was endorsed by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who appeared in Alaska along with several other top Republicans.
Knowles, 61, is a former mayor of Anchorage and a two-term governor who sought to distance himself from national Democrats, saying he would be an independent voice for Alaskans.
Like most Alaska campaigns, a key issue in the race was energy exploration. Murkowski received a campaign boost in early October in the form of financial incentives approved by Congress to build a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 states.