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Knowles Near His Decision

Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles (D) is moving closer to running for the Senate in 2004.

Knowles told Roll Call late Tuesday that he and his wife, Susan, are closing in on a final decision, after spending the past several days in Washington, D.C.

Knowles is considered the Democrats’ best — and probably only — hope of defeating newly appointed Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) in 2004.

“We’re seriously considering it,” he said. “We’re continuing in a very positive way to look at making the Senate race. It’s looking better all the time.”

Officially, Knowles has been in town in his capacity as a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, which released a groundbreaking report Wednesday on the health of the world’s oceans. The Pew commissioners — the commission is led by former California Rep. and Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta — have been briefing Congressional leaders and environmental and business groups this week.

“I’m keeping my political profile very low and my Pew commissioner profile very high,” he said.

But it is also clear that the new Pew report, which says that oceans are endangered by overdevelopment, overfishing and inconsistent environmental regulations, has Knowles thinking of the future — and how, as a Senator, he can help fashion national policy.

“That’s going to lead to some good legislation, I hope,” he said.

Knowles, 60, said he met recently with three Senators whom he had previously known when they were governors — Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). Each, he said, offered insights into the transition from statehouse to Capitol Hill — and the differences in campaigning for the two offices.

“They shared their experiences in a very positive way,” Knowles said. “It’s a totally different job and it’s a totally different campaign.”

Knowles did not talk about his likely general election foe, Murkowski, a former two-term state Representative who became a Senator in December 2002 after being appointed by her father, Alaska Gov. (and former Sen.) Frank Murkowski (R). While Lisa Murkowski has thrown herself into her Senate duties and is aggressively raising money, the manner in which she was appointed may still rankle some voters.

Recent Republican and Democratic polls have reached widely divergent conclusions about Lisa Murkowski’s popularity. And prominent Alaska Republicans, including Teamster leader Jerry Hood and businessman and former state Railroad Commissioner Johne Binkley, talk openly of challenging her in a primary.

But Knowles is obviously aware that Murkowski has a head start, at least when it comes to fundraising. According to Alaska news accounts, she has already raised $500,000 on her way to her goal of $2 million or $3 million for the campaign.

While Knowles couldn’t say when he will announce his plans, he did say: “The sooner the decision, the better the potential results.”

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