JUNEAU, Alaska - Independent Al Gross won the Democratic Alaska U.S. Senate primary Tuesday, advancing to challenge Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan in this fall's general election.
Gross, an orthopedic surgeon who was endorsed by the state Democratic party and gained national attention bested Democrat Edgar Blatchford, a university professor and former state commerce commissioner, and Chris Cumings, a registered nonpartisan like Gross. “Independent” is a term often used to describe those registered as nonpartisan or undeclared in Alaska.
“The fight won't be easy, but I'm inspired to know that I’m not in it alone,” Gross told supporters outside an Anchorage union hall late Tuesday.
Sullivan, 55, said the stakes for the general election “couldn’t be higher for our state and country.”
He said having Democrat Joe Biden as president and a Democratic-led Senate would threaten to unravel what he sees as progress in recent years on resource development, military and other issues that are part of an “Alaska agenda.” He cites moves toward allowing oil and gas drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and investments in the military as issues the Trump administration has supported and issues Sullivan believes many Alaskans support, too.
He said he has a good relationship with President Donald Trump. “It’s not what he says and what he puts out with regard to tweets, but what he’s done, what his administration has done in conjunction with the Congress,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan, a former state natural resources commissioner and attorney general, was elected to the Senate in 2014. He ousted Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in an expensive and closely watched race. Sullivan said a reason he ran in 2014 was because he believed the federal government, during the Obama administration, “was not supporting us. It was an obstacle, not a partner with regard to our economy.” Biden was Obama’s vice-president.
Gross called Sullivan a “puppet” for Trump, who carried the state in the 2016 presidential election. Gross has won support from The Lincoln Project, which includes current and former Republicans working to defeat Trump and those in Congress seen as allied with him. The group has taken aim at Sullivan.
Gross, whose father, the late Avrum Gross, was an attorney general under Gov. Jay Hammond in the 1970s, in an interview said the state has fared poorly economically the last several years. He said he would be a strong proponent of responsible resource development, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“I have no intention of trying to stop resource development in the state," he said. “But we have to look beyond that and find ways to diversify our economy in addition to responsible resource development.”
Gross, 58, has said he would push for changes intended to improve healthcare and help bring down costs. He said he supports a public option for individuals and small businesses on the health insurance exchange as a “starting point towards developing a more comprehensive public system.”
Financial disclosures show Gross had $2.9 million available at the end of July and had put more than $700,000 toward his campaign. Sullivan had about $5.3 million available.
Blatchford and Cumings had not reported raising any money.
Liz Gifford, a photographer and guide who biked to her Juneau polling place Tuesday, said she favoured Gross. Gifford, a Democrat, said it was time to shake-up who was in office.
“There was nothing holding me back from voting, honestly,” she said, adding she felt comfortable with the precautions state elections officials took, which at her polling station at a high school included spacing voting booths and marking Xs on the floor to encourage social distancing among waiting voters.
Richard See said he initially biked to the wrong polling station before being directed to the high school location. He said he voted for Blatchford, saying he liked Blatchford's past experience as a mayor and his roots in Alaska and saw him as straightforward in laying out his policy positions.