Independent Al Gross takes on Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan in Alaska

  • Independent candidate Al Gross is challenging Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan this year in Alaska. 
  • Sullivan, Alaska's former attorney general and a longtime servicemember in the US Marine Corps, was first elected in 2014 and is now seeking a second term. 
  • Gross, an orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman, is running as an independent who would caucus with Democrats if elected, but says he would still maintain his own unique political brand. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Independent candidate Dr. Al Gross is challenging Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan in Alaska this November. 

The candidates

Sullivan, a former clerk on multiple state and federal courts, has served as Alaska Attorney General and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, and was first elected to the US Senate in 2014.

Sullivan has also served in the US Marine Corps since 1993 in multiple roles, and currently holds the rank of Colonel in the US Marine Corps Reserves. In Congress, he serves on the Committees on Armed Services, Commerce, and Transportation.

The senator has heavily focused his legislative efforts on sponsoring bills addressing military and veterans' affairs and infrastructure, two key issues in Alaska. He's voted in lockstep with President Donald Trump 97% of the time since 2017, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Gross, his opponent, is running as an independent but would caucus with Democrats if elected, similarly to independent Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine. 

Gross, an Alaska native and son of former Alaska Attorney General Avrum Gross, is an orthopedic surgeon, commercial fisherman, and affordable healthcare advocate. He left his orthopedic surgery practice in 2013 to earn a master's degree in public health and tackling some of the inequalities in Alaska's healthcare system. 

He's campaigning on expanding healthcare access and lowering prescription drug costs, addressing climate change and protecting Alaska's natural resources, and investing in Alaska's infrastructure and economy.

While Gross would caucus with the Democrats, he's created some distance between himself and some of the Democrats' most liberal policies, including creating a Medicare for All system and the Green New Deal resolution on climate, prominently noting that he's supportive of gun rights and even once killed a grizzly bear that snuck up on him. 


The stakes

In addition to winning back the White House, regaining control of the US Senate for the first time since 2015 is a top priority for Democrats and would be a major step towards either delivering on a future president Joe Biden's policy goals or thwarting President Donald Trump's second-term agenda.

Currently, the US Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents that caucus with Democrats, meaning that Democrats need to win back a net total of four seats to have a 51-seat majority (if Biden wins, his vice president would also serve as president of the Senate and would be a tie-breaker vote). 

While Alaska has traditionally voted Republican at the statewide level, the state has a unique relationship to the federal government and a particularly independent-minded brand of politics where local issues and concerns about economic development, public lands, and the fishing and energy industries often take the forefront in campaigns. 

The state also has a large population of Native Alaskan residents, a community facing their own unique challenges and needs, including economic opportunity, access to infrastructure, and especially high rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse, a tough topic that both candidates are addressing in their campaigns. 

While Sullivan is currently favored to win reelection this year by most election analysts, the race could be especially competitive if a large enough proportion of voters split their tickets between Trump and Gross. 

In 2014, a highly favorable year for the GOP as Republicans swept thousands of offices, Sullivan still only defeated his Democratic opponent by a margin of two percentage points, hardly a blowout victory. 

What the polling says

Alaska is a difficult state to poll, so public surveys of this race have been few and far between.

The most recent public poll of the race conducted by The New York Times and Siena College found Sullivan leading Gross by eight points, 45% to 37%, with Alaskan Independence candidate Jon Howe taking 10% of the vote. 

Another previous poll conducted by Alaska Survey Research found Sullivan leading Gross by four points, 48% to 44%. A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling from August 27-28 found Sullivan and Gross tied at 43% support each. In early July, PPP found Sullivan leading Gross by five points, 39% to 34%. 

The money race

A last-minute surge of momentum and enthusiasm around Gross gave him a huge boost in fundraising. In 2020's third quarter, Gross brought in $9 million compared to just $1.34 million for Sullivan. Gross enters the final stretch of the campaign with $5 million compared to $2.5 million for Sullivan. 

Gross' campaign has also benefited from nearly $3 million in independent expenditures from outside groups supporting his candidacy in the race from organizations including The Lincoln Project and 314 Action.

Politico recently reported that Alaska is turning into a "money bomb," writing that "a new influx of outside spending and grassroots dollars into Gross' campaign have given Democrats a major financial edge in the state in the final four weeks."

What some of the experts say

The race between Sullivan and Gross is rated as "leans Republican" by the Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, and is rated "likely Republican" by Inside Elections.

FiveThirtyEight's US Senate forecasting model gives Sullivan a 77% chance of winning the race compared to 23% for Gross. The model projects that Sullivan will win 51% of the popular vote compared to 44% for Gross. 

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