Independent Al Gross is seeking to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. senator for Alaska in a race against Dan Sullivan. But first he must win the party’s nomination against two opponents, Democrat Edgar Blatchford and independent Chris Cumings.
Gross said he decided to be an independent when he was 18, watching the relationship between his father, Alaska Attorney General Av Gross, a Democrat, and Gov. Jay Hammond, a Republican.
“They put party politics aside and did what was best for the state,” he said.
Now Gross is aiming to be the first Alaska Democratic Senate nominee who’s not a registered Democrat. The state party changed its rules in 2016 to allow people who aren’t registered as Democrats to run in party primaries.
Gross began working in commercial fishing as a teenager and later became an orthopedic surgeon, working in Juneau and later Petersburg. He’s now based in Anchorage.
Gross said owning small fishing and medical businesses helps him understand the problems the state faces.
“I don’t like the direction that Alaska or our country is going,” he said. “And I believe Dan (Sullivan) is showing no sense of independent thinking for the state. I don’t believe he understands what makes the economy of Alaska tick and what’s holding it back.”
Gross wants to reduce health care costs by offering a public option for purchasing insurance. And he wants to ensure Alaskans receive their fair share of resource development in the state, saying the proposed Pebble Mine would give little back to the state. He wants to help mediate partisan disputes in Washington. And he wants to see better federal leadership in response to COVID-19.
Gross’s campaign has raised more than $5 million in funds, according to the most recent federal filings. Both of his opponents have raised no money. But both have gotten votes in statewide Democratic primaries before.
Edgar Blatchford received nearly 40% of the votes in the Democratic primary for the Senate in 2016.
Blatchford was born in Nome and later lived in Seward, where he became the mayor. He lives in Anchorage now. He’s a former commissioner of the departments of community and regional affairs under Gov. Wally Hickel and commerce, community and economic development under Gov. Frank Murkowski. And he’s a journalism and Alaska Native studies professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Blatchford said Democratic primary voters should consider him, as the only party member in the race.
“I could have chosen to run unaffiliated, independent or nonpartisan,” he said. “I chose to run as a Democrat because I think the Democratic Party needs to have someone on the Democratic ticket who is not afraid to be a Democrat.”
Blatchford is disappointed that the Alaska Democratic Party endorsed Gross last year, long before the filing deadline.
He wants to reform federal campaign finance laws, adding transparency. And he supports increasing corporate accountability, saying that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is a hero for her positions on corporations. He said it’s clear why wealthy donors outside Alaska give money to candidates in the state.
“It’s because they want to buy influence,” he said. “People in global corporations don’t give money out of the goodness of their heart. They expect something in return.”
Cumings, like Gross, is not a registered Democrat. He received 8% of the vote in the Democratic U.S. House primary in 2018, running against Alyse Galvin. Cumings works assisting children and people with disabilities with daily tasks for the Ketchikan nonprofit Community Connections.
He said Congress would benefit from more people who live paycheck to paycheck, like him.
“I’ve been trying to buy a house, but my student loans are 100% what’s keeping me from being able to do that,” he said.
Cumings said he’s struggled with mental illness and has been in recovery for more than two years from an opioid addiction.
“We have lots of doctors, lots of lawyers, lots of businessmen in Congress, but we don’t have people who’ve been sick, people who aren’t well-off, people who’ve made mistakes,” he said.
Cumings says his top priorities are universal, government-funded health care, improved federal support for public education in Alaska, and federal leadership in providing quality child care for every family.
The primary is Aug. 18. Through Monday, 20,095 people have already voted early, either in person or by mail.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that Gross’s campaign “has more than $5 million in funds.” That’s the amount that the campaign has raised, not the amount that it currently has in its possession. The sentence has been updated.