ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, whose perceived missteps over the past four years have turned him into one of the most unpopular governors in state history, soundly lost his bid for re-election after finishing last in a hotly contested three-way race for the Republican nomination.
With 70 percent of precincts reporting, Sarah Palin, a former Wasilla mayor, won the GOP nod with 51 percent of the vote. Former state legislator John Binkley came in second with 30 percent. Murkowski polled just 19 percent.
Murkowski shook Palin's hand in the middle of a crowd of her supporters, all waving signs. "Congratulations, you've got my support. I'll do everything to see that you're elected," Murkowski told her.
She will next face Tony Knowles, a former two-term governor, who handily won the race to be the Democratic nominee for governor. 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."
Alaska voters also were leaning toward adopting a $50 per-person tax on cruise ship passengers. Proponents want the industry to pay more for improving ports and other visitor services. With 70 percent of precincts reporting, the measure led by nearly 6,800 votes, 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent.
Elections also were held Tuesday in Wyoming and Oklahoma.
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.
Despite his defeat, Murkowski vowed to continue to push for a natural gas pipeline to Canada. He said he will call the Legislature back into session once the pipeline deal has been revised and will ask lawmakers to approve it.
The Murkowski campaign was dealt another blow when a volunteer was shot in the chest Tuesday outside the governor's midtown campaign office after being caught in the crossfire between gunmen in two passing cars. He was well enough to appear with Murkowski later in the night at election headquarters.
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 gubernatorial 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 had won.
Freudenthal will face Ray Hunkins, an attorney and rancher, who also was an easy winner on the Republican side. 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.