Scramble for the Senate: Alaska
Scramble for the Senate: Alaska

In many ways, the Repub­li­can Par­ty is under­go­ing a self-dri­ven implo­sion, led by the man at the top. Large majori­ties of Amer­i­cans (up to three quar­ters in some polls) are at odds with Pres­i­dent Trump and his cronies on prac­ti­cal­ly all the major issues fac­ing the Unit­ed States (like the pan­dem­ic) and dis­like the way he is han­dling — or not han­dling — the inces­sant wave of crises engulf­ing the country.

Trump’s incom­pe­tence, along with his party’s slav­ish inabil­i­ty to chal­lenge him on any­thing, cre­ates oppor­tu­ni­ties for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty across the board, and nowhere is that more clear than in the U.S. Sen­ate. Despite the fact that the upper house of Con­gress is prac­ti­cal­ly cus­­tom-made to advan­tage the Repub­li­cans (because of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate pow­er of low-pop­u­la­­tion states), the Democ­rats are with­in reach of win­ning a major­i­ty there for the first time in a decade.

Trump’s unpop­u­lar­i­ty is open­ing doors for Sen­ate Democ­rats in states that would have seemed stun­ning only a cou­ple of years ago.

For exam­ple, the Kansas Demo­c­rat and U.S. Sen­ate can­di­date Bar­bara Bol­lier has out­done all her Repub­li­can oppo­nents in fundrais­ing. Although Kansas seems to have been put out of reach by Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry vot­ers’ rejec­tion of the polar­iz­ing Kris Kobach, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­to­r­i­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee (DSCC) has its eye on anoth­er high­ly unusu­al tar­get: Alas­ka, the Last Frontier.

At first glance, Alaska’s incum­bent U.S. Sen­a­tor Dan Sul­li­van might not appear to be vul­ner­a­ble. Alaska’s con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion is all-Repub­­li­­can, and the state went for Trump by a mar­gin of almost 15%.

Fur­ther­more, Alas­ka has a his­to­ry of re-elec­t­ing incum­bents; the state has only had eight U.S. sen­a­tors since becom­ing a state in 1959!

The Demo­c­ra­t­ic argu­ment is that Alaskan pol­i­tics can­not read­i­ly be under­stood by look­ing at the red-blue divide, but by instead focus­ing on can­di­dates that suit Alaska’s unusu­al and very spe­cif­ic needs as a state. Alaskans val­ue politi­cians that put loy­al­ty to their state over loy­al­ty to par­ty, which could be a major prob­lem for Dan Sul­li­van. Unlike Alaska’s oth­er GOP sen­a­tor, Lisa Murkows­ki, Sul­li­van rigid­ly backs Trump; he has vot­ed with the Pres­i­dent over 90% of the time.

The DSCC has cho­sen to exploit Sullivan’s devo­tion to the Trump-enabling Repub­li­can Par­ty by sup­port­ing an inde­pen­dent to run against him.

Dr Al Gross has a résumé that seems cus­­tom-designed for this polit­i­cal moment in Alas­ka. He reflects Alaskans’ self-image as tough and inde­pen­dent, hav­ing been a com­mer­cial fish­er­man since the age of four­teen and hav­ing once won a fight with a griz­zly bear (accord­ing to his cam­paign ads).

He has deep roots in Alaskan pol­i­tics; his father, Avrum, was the state’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al, and Al was friends with the late Jay Ham­mond, Alaska’s pop­u­lar gov­er­nor from the 1970s and ear­ly eight­ies. Best of all, Gross is a prac­tic­ing doc­tor with a master’s degree in pub­lic health, run­ning in the midst of a pandemic.

Last month, Gross won the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry with the back­ing of the DSCC. Between his self-iden­ti­­fi­­ca­­tion as an inde­pen­dent and the DSCC’s insis­tence on embrac­ing less pro­gres­sive can­di­dates (John Hick­en­loop­er over Andrew Romanoff, Amy McGrath over Charles Book­er, Sara Gideon over Bet­sy Sweet), pro­gres­sives have good rea­sons to be wary of Gross as a candidate.

How­ev­er, pro­gres­sive Democ­rats would be advised to close­ly exam­ine Gross’ pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties. While he does not sup­port pro­gres­sive strate­gic ini­tia­tives such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, Dr. Gross’ poli­cies (or “pre­scrip­tions,” as his cam­paign web­site puts it) are all refresh­ing­ly positive:

  • Gross sup­ports Medicare as a pub­lic option and allow­ing Medicare to nego­ti­ate to dri­ve drug prices down.
  • He sup­ports strong unions and is him­self a mem­ber of the Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Local 1959.
  • He describes Alas­ka as “Ground Zero” of the cli­mate cri­sis and sup­ports re-enter­ing the Paris Cli­mate Accords.
  • He sup­ports a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment to over­turn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Cit­i­zens Unit­ed (or more accu­rate­ly, Cor­po­ra­tions Unit­ed) deci­sion.

His sup­port­ers believe that his elec­tion – Grossi is a mem­ber of Alaska’s small Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty – would also be a fit­ting denun­ci­a­tion of the far-right anti­semitism that has risen in the wake of the 2016 election.

Gross’ plat­form also shows his ded­i­ca­tion to rep­re­sent­ing Alaska’s interests.

His sup­port for increased mil­i­tary spend­ing in the state might throw pro­gres­sives off at first, but it is an expe­di­ent pol­i­cy to have in a state where mil­i­tary spend­ing is one of the largest sec­tors of the econ­o­my. On health­care, Gross sup­ports increased fund­ing for telemed­i­cine, an essen­tial ser­vice for Alaska’s many remote com­mu­ni­ties. One of the key planks of his agen­da is tack­ling domes­tic and sex­u­al abuse, prob­lems that have reached cri­sis lev­els in Alaska.

Gross also sup­ports increased sov­er­eign­ty for Alas­ka Native communities.

Does Al Gross have a chance? It’s hard to tell.

A recent sur­vey from Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling, NPI’s pri­ma­ry poll­ster, shows Gross with­in 5% of Sul­li­van, although Alas­ka is infa­mous­ly hard to poll accurately.

The state went for Trump by 15% in 2016, but incum­bent Sen­a­tor Dan Sul­li­van won his 2014 ele­cion by only 6,000 votes. Although Sul­li­van is far ahead in terms of fundrais­ing, Gross has a broad coali­tion of back­ers and has raised over $4 mil­lion. As well as the DSCC, Gross has received sup­port from the Lin­coln Project, a col­lec­tion of anti-Tru­­mo Repub­li­can oper­a­tives. The Lin­coln Project have run pro-Gross adver­tise­ments in Alas­ka, as well as boost­ing his pro­file on social media.

How­ev­er, some groups that Gross had been count­ing on for sup­port – most impor­tant­ly, the Unit­ed Fish­er­men of Alas­ka – have opt­ed to back Sullivan.

The elec­tion may well be decid­ed by fac­tors com­plete­ly out­side the con­trol of either can­di­date. In 2016, Alas­ka decid­ed to auto­mat­i­cal­ly reg­is­ter all vot­ers, which Democ­rats believe will great­ly increase the turnout of young and minor­i­ty vot­ers. On the oth­er hand, Trump’s recent bla­tant attempts to sab­o­tage the U.S. Postal Ser­vice are like­ly to have a detri­men­tal effect on how many votes will even be count­ed, in a state where vot­ing by mail is like­ly to be prolific.

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2 replies on “Scramble for the Senate: Can Al Gross topple Republican Dan Sullivan in the Last Frontier?”

  1. Thank you for your arti­cle. I do appre­ci­ate your pro­mo­tion of Dr. Gross. I would like to point out that Dan Sul­li­van was not the incum­bent US Sen­a­tor from Alas­ka in 2014. Mark Begich was the incum­bent Demo­c­rat and he lost to Sul­li­van in 2014.

  2. You said Gross is a prac­tic­ing doc­tor. It is my under­stand­ing that he left his prac­tice. His com­mer­cials appear to indi­cate he went back to com­mer­cial fish­ing. But then Gross’s com­mer­cials are not very accu­rate or hon­est. Take for instance his com­mer­cial where he is walk­ing through the wet­lands with a large cal­iber scoped rifle and looks into the stream. One might well ask what is Al Gross sup­pos­ed­ly hunt­ing? What did Gross expect to find in the stream? The impli­ca­tion to me is that he is hunt­ing water­fowl with a large cal­iber rifle, clear­ly a vio­la­tion of Alas­ka fish and game laws. Are we to con­sid­er vot­ing a law­break­er into the Sen­ate? It is but one exam­ple of how dishonest/unreliable his com­mer­cials are. Appar­ent­ly the goal is to make Gross look macho at what­ev­er cost to the truth.

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