JUNEAU - Gov. Frank Murkowski ended months of speculation Friday with the announcement that he will seek a second term.
"There's an unfinished job to do," the 73-year-old Republican said when breaking the news to a crowd of party faithful who gathered at Soapy Smith's Restaurant in Fairbanks early Friday morning.
"We've got the momentum, and I want to see it through," Murkowski said.
Murkowski had put off announcing his re-election plans while negotiating a contract with the state's largest oil producers on the financial terms to recover the North Slope's natural gas reserves.
The deal, which has to be ratified by the Legislature, is hoped to lead to a natural gas pipeline to Canada or Chicago.
With Friday's announcement, it became clear that Murkowski plans to center his campaign on the contract proposal and the prospect of constructing a gas pipeline, what would be the largest construction project in the nation.
"Building the gas line is certainly the number one priority of my administration," Murkowski said. "The gas pipeline, in my opinion, will really be another Prudhoe Bay."
He said he returned as Alaska's governor after a 22-year stint in the U.S. Senate to spur the state's economic development and "to get this thing moving again.
"We've lived up to that commitment, but it's not done yet," he said.
Murkowski joins John Binkley of Fairbanks and Sarah Palin of Wasilla as the only announced Republican contenders for governor. Binkley has raised the most money of all candidates and Palin enjoys popular support, but Murkowski will bring a sizable advantage - the power of incumbency.
Anchorage Reps. Ethan Berkowitz and Eric Croft are running on the Democratic ticket.
Former legislator and Anchorage businessman Andrew Halcro is running as an independent candidate.
The Republican primary is Aug. 22. The general election is Nov. 7.
Few people knew Murkowski's re-election plans before Friday; even his staff and family said they were in the dark. The governor did not release to the press that he would be announcing his decision until late Thursday afternoon.
The deadline for candidates to declare their intentions is June 1.
Murkowski has been widely criticized for program cuts early in his administration and for appointing his daughter, Lisa, to take his former seat in the U.S. Senate. He is seen as an unpopular governor who could be vulnerable in a Republican primary against strong contenders.
But not Friday morning in Fairbanks.
"He takes a lot of flack, but it bounces off and he keeps on steady on his programs," said Dave Eichler, a Fairbanks resident who attended the breakfast announcement.
Former Republican state Rep. Jeannette James of North Pole also was there for Murkowski's re-election announcement. She said the state needs a gas pipeline, and Murkowski plays a key part in building it.
"Without him, I don't think we'll get it," James said.