ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Sen. Frank Murkowski and Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer will not face off in Fairbanks this week, as had been expected.
Murkowski had said he would appear at a candidates forum at the Tanana Valley State Fair on Thursday. Instead, he'll debate fellow Republican Wayne Anthony Ross at a luncheon Thursday at the Petroleum Club in Anchorage.
Murkowski faces Ross in the Aug. 27 Republican primary.
Democrat Ulmer's campaign staff was miffed Monday, saying Murkowski backed out on a commitment to appear at the Fairbanks event.
Meanwhile, Ross, who has been struggling to draw attention to his campaign, was thrilled that Murkowski would stay in Anchorage. Ross complains that Murkowski, a U.S. senator, has been staying in Washington, D.C., to avoid the primary campaign.
''You mean we're actually going to see the phantom campaigner?'' Ross asked.
Murkowski's staff had told reporters and Ulmer that he planned to be at the Tanana Valley Fair, a traditional forum that has drawn a crowd of would-be governors. It's a chance for the front-runners to mingle with the long-shots and for Interior voters to see candidates up close.
Sixteen candidates have entered the governor's race this year. Linda Witt of the League of Women Voters, which is organizing the forum, said all were invited last month.
But Ross said he did not receive his fair invitation until last week and had already promised to speak to an Anchorage Republican women's luncheon at the Petroleum Club.
Murkowski campaign spokesman Dan Saddler said Murkowski changed plans so that he could appear with Ross.
Four candidates have entered the race for governor as Republicans. Murkowski holds a big lead, pollsters say. Ross is a distant second.
''We're going where Ross is. He's our man,'' Saddler said.
The other Republican candidates are Brad Snowden and Eric Weiler.
Ulmer and Murkowski have been attempting to organize a series of debates before the general election Nov. 5. Nordlund said he spoke with Murkowski campaign manager Bill Gordon about two weeks ago, to match schedules.
''I said we're going to be there in Fairbanks. Gordon said, 'OK, we're going to be there too,' '' campaign manager Jim Nordlund recalled. ''Now, the first thing we're going to try to negotiate, they pull out.''
Saddler called the change of plans a ''scheduling hiccup.'' Tanana Valley Fair organizers had told the Murkowski campaign staff that Ross would be at the forum.
''There's no bad faith here,'' Saddler said.
Ulmer still plans to attend the forum Thursday evening, Nordlund said.
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