ANCHORAGE -- Sen. Frank Murkowski said Tuesday he is putting off a decision on whether he will run for governor in order to focus on efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
Murkowski said the vote last week in the U.S. House to allow oil development in the refuge as well as the shift in leadership in the Senate have changed his timetable for deciding on a gubernatorial run. He had said previously that he would announce his decision in September.
At a news conference in Anchorage Tuesday, Murkowski said he is leaning toward running for governor next year and said his decision to delay an announcement isn't due to lack of interest.
''We're going to have to spend all of our time and attention on getting this through the Senate,'' Murkowski said of the ANWR provision in the president's energy bill. ''It's simply not the time to focus on the election.''
While the ANWR drilling proposal won approval last week in the House, Senate opponents have promised a filibuster. Drilling proponents are looking at various ways to win passage of the measure while avoiding a filibuster, Murkowski said.
''There's a lot of flexibility in how we maneuver this,'' he said.
Murkowski said he feels confident he can win support for the measure in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on which he sits.
He said the measure is about two votes short of passage in the Senate. Efforts to win support will focus on Senators in the farm belt.
''This makes sense for farmers because they need energy. They need gas and petroleum. They need a strong domestic source,'' Murkowski said.
Murkowski also said he has invited President Bush to visit ANWR when the president passes through Alaska in October on his way to China. The White House has not yet responded to the invitation, he said.
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