NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, September 25th, 2020

Scramble for the Senate: Can Al Gross topple Republican Dan Sullivan in the Last Frontier?

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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One Comment

  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.

    # by Teresa Hurley :: September 27th, 2020 at 2:41 AM