Al Gross, who said he would caucus with Democrats and is outraising Republican incumbent rival, portrays himself as someone who knows the state
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Al Gross commands a fishing boat as a narrator describes him prospecting for gold and killing a grizzly bear in self-defense in an ad meant to underscore a central theme of Gross’s US Senate campaign as an independent: that he knows Alaska.
“Out here,” he says as the boat rocks on the water, “if you can’t think for yourself, you won’t survive.”
Gross, a doctor running with Democratic support, is challenging Republican US Sen. Dan Sullivan in a state that has long been a GOP stronghold, outraising Sullivan and putting Republicans on the defensive. Across the country, Republicans are nervous about Senate seats like Sullivan’s they once thought safe as Democrats hoping to retake the chamber try to tap into the party’s enthusiasm for ousting US President Donald Trump.
Sullivan has sought to paint Gross, who said he would caucus with Democrats, as a liberal and someone who would empower an “anti-Alaska agenda.” Sullivan said that includes limiting access to federal lands for development, cutting military spending and eliminating the potential for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — an issue state political leaders have long supported but one that has become a flashpoint in the national climate change debate between Republicans and Democrats.
I know these senators,” Sullivan said.
Oil has been Alaska’s economic lifeblood for decades. Production today is a fraction of what it once was. Gross, like Sullivan, supports drilling in the refuge. Gross said he supports renewable energy as a way to diversify Alaska’s economy but not the so-called Green New Deal.
“If you think I have any intention of turning Alaska into a park, you’re wrong,” Gross said while wearing a camouflage jacket during a debate held via videoconference.
The largest bloc of Alaska registered voters identify as independents; among the parties, Republicans far outnumber Democrats. Recent polling suggests Sullivan with a slight lead.
In the last 40 years, Alaska has elected one Democrat to the Senate, Mark Begich, who served a term before narrowly losing to Sullivan in 2014, a battleground year in which Republicans regained the Senate. That year, Alaskans also elected an independent governor, who changed his party affiliation from Republican in joining forces with Democrats.
A Democratic presidential candidate last won the state in 1964. Trump won Alaska in 2016 with 51% of the vote; Democrat Hillary Clinton won 36%.
Sullivan, who withdrew his support of Trump in 2016 after a 2005 video of Trump making lewd comments emerged, said Trump is his choice this go-round, and Trump has endorsed him. Gross has called Sullivan a Trump “yes man.”
Through September, Gross had raised $13.9 million, compared to $9.4 million for Sullivan this cycle.