ANCHORAGE U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski shrugged off charges of nepotism and a lack of conservative credentials to take the lead with more than half of the state's precincts reporting Tuesday night in the Republican Party primary.
With 245 of 439 precincts reporting, Murkowski led former state Senate President Mike Miller of North Pole, 28,665 votes, or 57 percent, to 19,307, or 38.5 percent. Wev Shea, former U.S. attorney for Alaska, was in third place with 1,785 votes, or 3.5 percent.
A Murkowski victory would set up a November showdown with former Gov. Tony Knowles, a popular Democrat whose presence in the race has transformed heavily GOP Alaska into an unlikely battleground in the fight for control of the Senate. Knowles faced token opposition Tuesday.
Murkowski, 47, an attorney three times elected to the state House of Representatives, was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, shortly after he took office in 2002.
The elder Murkowski gave up a Senate seat he held for 22 years to run for governor. After his election, he conducted what he said was an exhaustive search for the most qualified Alaskan to replace himself and chose his daughter.
Lisa Murkowski captured the official backing of most mainstream Alaska Republicans, including the state's powerful senior U.S. senator, Ted Stevens, and its lone congressman, Don Young. Murkowski began campaigning in January 2003 and raised $3.75 million through Aug. 4.
Miller, 53, a gift shop owner from North Pole who spent 18 years in the Legislature, tried to compete with a campaign fund of $258,616, including $200,000 of his own money.
Knowles, the two-term former governor, won the Democratic nomination Tuesday night. With more than half of precincts reporting, he had 24,118 votes, or 96 percent, easily outdistancing Don Wright of Fairbanks, a former president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, with 651 votes, or 2.6 percent.
Knowles called his victory an important benchmark but said it would not change how he campaigns.
''I'm going to work hard, shake hands, talk to Alaskans, listen to Alaskans, and continue the message I've heard from so many Alaskans over the past month,'' he said.
National security is at the top of everyone's list, he said.
''People feel that their personal freedoms are under more threat today than they have ever been,'' he said.
He also will focus on jobs, health care and education.
''Special interests have been writing public policy for too long,'' he said. ''People want a change.''
Knowles, 61, served as mayor of Anchorage for six years in the 1980s. Since he declared his candidacy in summer 2003, he has kept pace with Murkowski's fund-raising, taking in $3.1 million.
U.S. Rep. Young faced no opponent in his Republican primary.
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