Just two hours after polls closed Tuesday, Murkowski conceded defeat and pledged to support the winner, former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin.
With 87 percent of precincts reporting, Palin won 51 percent of the vote beating former state Sen. John Binkley with 30 percent and Murkowski’s 19 percent.
Binkley also threw his support behind Palin and told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, “I’m going moose hunting. That’s all I know.”
Murkowski suffered low approval ratings that plunged to 19 percent in an August poll by SurveyUSA, numbers higher than only one other governor, Ohio’s embattled Gov. Bob Taft. The last Alaskan governor to lose a primary was Democrat Bill Sheffield in 1986.
Palin, former chairwoman of the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and two-term mayor of Wasilla, marketed herself as an opportunity for change and ran without support from the state’s Republican Party. With her primary win, she has the chance to become the state’s first female governor if she can beat former Gov. Tony Knowles in the November general election.
Knowles, Alaska’s Democratic governor from 1994 to 2002, easily won his party’s nomination with 74 percent of the vote over state Rep. Eric Croft and Bruce Lemke. Alaska’s constitution allows three terms as governor but mandates a break after two consecutive terms.
Knowles ran for Senate in 2004 but lost to the governor’s daughter, Republican Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed by her father Frank Murkowski to replace him in the Senate after he won the governor’s spot, a move that angered many Alaskans.
Murkowski’s opponents also criticized him for buying a state jet for his personal use, cutting the longevity bonus — cash payments to seniors — and negotiating a contract with three top oil producers for a proposed pipeline. All of his primary opponents support a pipeline but said that Murkowski’s deal made too many concessions to BP, Exxon Mobil and ConcocPhillips and was not good for the public.