ANCHORAGE (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski and Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross acted more like old bantering buddies Thursday than serious rivals in the Republican race for governor.
The two traded friendly barbs throughout a candidates' forum and luncheon sponsored by the Anchorage Republican Women's Club. Murkowski, considered the front-runner in his party, faces Ross in the Aug. 27 primary.
Ross chided Murkowski for deserting a winning congressional team of veterans. He said Murkowski's duty lies with the Senate, where his 22 years of seniority is crucial in dealing with important national issues affecting Alaska, such as opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and building a natural gas line from the North Slope.
''Frank, you don't need to take on more problems in Juneau,'' Ross said. ''You have problems enough to solve as our senator in Washington. You need to stay in Washington.
In his turn addressing the crowd, Murkowski said staying in the Senate would be the easier choice. But he wants to make a difference closer to home, he said.
''We have a conviction and a belief that what happened in this state in the last eight years is a tremendous disappointment,'' Murkowski said. ''No, Wayne, we're coming back because we honestly believe we can serve the people of Alaska in Juneau as governor better than we can to stay in the United States Senate.''
Murkowski and Ross were the only candidates invited to speak Thursday, although two others -- Eric Weiler of Anchorage and Brad Snowden of Seward -- also are running on the Republican ticket.
Ross listed his long ties to Alaska and said he closely understands major issues involving public safety, the criminal justice system, natural resources, subsistence and education. He said his goal is to cut state spending by half a billion dollars.
Ross also noted his long service to the Republican party by himself and his wife, Barbara.
''Barb and I are the folks who usually stay late after Republican events to clean up the hall long after royalty and most everyone else has gone home,'' Ross said. ''In short, Barb and I have served in the trenches for over 30 years.''
Murkowski zeroed in on his political experience.
''We're talking about qualifications,'' he said. ''And the qualifications associated with running this state, working with our federal government and working with our delegation, are qualifications I have and I believe in all honesty they're second to none.''
The hour-long event was heavy with jokes and light on substantive discussion. During a lull in a brief question-and-answer period, Murkowski piped up with his own question:
''What's for dessert?'' he said.
Concluding the event, Murkowski and Ross agreed to support each other should one of them win. The club president, former state Rep. Alyce Hanley, then asked the two to sign a unity pledge to keep their campaigns clean and to support the winner in the general election. They signed after Ross inserted ''Republican'' before the word winner.
''You sign it first and then I'll sign it,'' Murkowski said. ''I'll witness your signature.''
''I can see you're getting used to backing me up already,'' Ross said.
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