As of today – with Dr. Al Gross trailing incumbent Alaska Republic Sen. Dan Sullivan by 61,000 votes to 119,000 votes – the independent candidate needs to win about three out of every four outstanding votes to become Alaska’s new senator.
If the roughly 120,000 absentee and mail-in votes break the way the 193,000 votes cast in Tuesday’s general election did – 62.22 percent Sullivan, 32.09 percent Gross and 5.69 percent other – Gross will lose the election by a count of about 100,000 votes to Sullivan’s approximately 194,000.
But Gross is not conceding. He remains hopeful of victory. And no matter how unlikely that appears, there is always hope.
If the uncounted votes flip 180 degrees from Tuesday’s result with Gross thus landing a 62 percent share to Sullivan’s 32 percent share, the challenger would get within 21,000 votes of the incumbent.
To succeed, Gross would need to get about two-thirds of the uncounted votes and see Sullivan take well less than a third. It could happen, but it appears hugely unlikely.
So let’s talk money.
If Gross gets half of the outstanding votes, he will end the race tallying about 121,000 with his campaign and its supporters having spent somewhere around $190 per vote. This is a significant amount of money.
But then American politics is largely about money.
Open Secrets, a website that tracks campaign spending, reported the biggest cash outlay this year was in South Carolina where the campaign of Democrat challenger Jaime Harrison invested $140 million trying to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, and attracted $17 million in assistance from groups trying to sink Graham’s reelection.
Those figures would indicate a cost of about $170 per vote. Unless there is a Gross landslide in those uncounted ballots, the Alaskan now appears in danger of not only losing the election but becoming – on a cost-per-vote basis – the biggest loser in this year’s national elections.
Where did all this money come from for the Gross campaign?
The candidate reported raising and spending about $9 million, but the bulk came from interest groups anxious to roll Sullivan. Open Secrets reported Outside groups spent more than $14 million attacking Sullivan.
Suffice to say, there was big money trying to influence Alaskans on how to vote. It wasn’t just Gross supporters either. Open Secrets reported Outside groups backing Sullivan spent $8.8 million on bad-mouthing Gross.
The biggest spending from Gross-backing groups came from the North Star (PAC), $6.9 million, and The Lincoln Project, $4.3 million.
The shadowy North Star PAC was set up in October with Ryan Johnston, a staffer for state Rep. Neal Foster, as its treasures and “custodian of records.” The organization’s Federal Election Commission filing revealed nothing else, but Jim Lottsfeldt – a well-known, Democrat political operative – was widely rumored to be one of the key, behind-the-scenes players.
The Politico story quoted Lottsfelt and noted North Star’s ties to “media buyer, Waterfront Strategies, (which) is used by a handful of major Democratic groups, including Senate Majority PAC, which is run by allies of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.”
The Lincoln Project was more upfront. It is a collection of establishment, political operatives – primarily Republicans – dedicated to the belief that “President Donald Trump and those who sign onto Trumpism are a clear and present danger to the Constitution and our Republic. Only defeating so polarizing a character as Trump will allow the country to heal its political and psychological wounds and allow for a new, better path forward for all Americans.”
The group took issue with Sullivan’s decision to avoid public, philosophical battles with Trump in order to win administration support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling and continue the federal government’s inflated defense spending in the 49th state.
For every dollar Alaska taxpayers contribute to federal spending on defense, about eight dollars come back to the state in the form of defense spending, according to DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment.
Defense spending accounts for 5.5 percent of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP). The state ranks fourth in per capita defense spending at $4,104 per resident, almost three times the national average. Only the states of Virginia ($5,459/resident), Hawaii ($4,544), and Connecticut ($4,170) take in more.
Along with spending a lot of money in the state, the DOD does a huge volume of business with Alaska Native Corporations running defense contracting businesses Outside. In Oklahoma, the Defense Department in 2019 reported paying $74.6 million to the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and $44.9 million to the Afognak Native Corp.
Anchorage-based Bering Straits Technical Services, a subsidiary of the Bering Straits Native Corporation, is one of the top-10 defense contractors in Delaware. Cook Inlet Region is one of the top-10 in Iowa; Chugach Alaska in Nevada and Washington state; Chenega Integrated Mission Support (a subsidiary of the Chenega Native corporation) in New Mexico; the NANA Regional Corp. in Tennessee; and the Chenega Corp. itself in Utah
Sullivan’s wife, Julie, is an Alaska Native and Sullivan, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, has been protective of both defense spending and the interests of state Native corporations, whose subsidiaries Outside help produce profits which pay corporate dividends to Natives living in-state.
A former Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Business Affair, Sullivan, according to friends, made a pragmatic decision it wasn’t in his state’s interest to be regularly picking fights with Trump over philosophical issues.
Gross supporters were hoping (and still are) that would cost Sullivan his seat while Gross was running what might have been one of the most misguided political campaigns in state history.
One almost has to wonder if the campaign didn’t choke on all the Outside money and advice. Whatever the case, its campaign strategy was to portray “Dr. Al Gross” as a bear-killing, ATV-driving, mountain-skiing, commercial-fishing man of the people.
Gross has valid claims to being a duck hunter, skier, commercial fisherman and more. But the packaging of these personal interests as the important issues marked more of a misjudgment than Clinton’s foray into the waterfowl marshes.
One can only surmise that some highly paid consultants back on the East Coast Googled “what do Alaskans like” before coming up with the very slick and very useless Gross campaign.
If he wins now – something which appears unlikely – it will be in spite of his own advertising, which is something that can be analyzed at this time without fear of being accused of partisanship.
The election is over. This isn’t about whether anyone should vote for Gross or not. It’s about how one candidate shot himself in the foot:
Number one: “Dr. Gross.” If you’re going to be a man of the people, you don’t go around boasting about your doctorate whether it is a license to practice medicine or a Ph.D. Every time a “Dr. Al Gross” ad appeared on the TV, which was way too often, you had to wonder if he would demand to be called “Sen. Dr. Al Gross” if elected.
Pretension as to one’s importance does not score big marks in the man-of-the-people department.
And this is not Alaska circa 1920 when the local doctor was a friendly, hardworking member of the community. In much of the state today, as in parts of the Lower 48 states, doctor is a synonym for “rich.”
When part of your issue with the guy you’re running against is that he comes from a wealthy family and is out of touch with working people, why underline your own upper-class status?
Number two: Overkill. No matter how well done, most political ads get old after you’ve seen them a few times. Gross’s ads were cinematically excellent, but after seeing him on the bridge of his gillnetter for the umpteenth time they got old, very old, a pestilent interruption in the middle of any football game.
If Gross was going to spend all that money to run any ad over and over and over again, he should have stuck to the goofy “Bear Doctor” ad which at least had an entertaining jingle:
“Well one day on the water. Dr. Al Gross got to thinkin’, he’d like to leave his practice and run for U.S. Senate. He’s killed a bear, caught lots of fish, not swayed by party politics, indepdent, health-care pro, keeping health-care costs real low. Running for Senate, Dr. Al Gross, Alaska’s own bear doctor. Grrrrrrrrr.”
And showing him in a vest holding what could be a sport caught coho salmon was way better from a political standpoint than putting him at the helm of that commercial gillnetter.
Number three: Gillnetter, gillnetter, gillnetter.
The United Cook Inlet Drifters Association (UCIDA) – a gillnetter organization – is now in the process of trying to get the federal government to take over management of salmon in Cook Inlet in the hopes the feds will disenfranchise tens of thousands of dipnetters and anglers in the Anchorage metro area.
This, according to Labor estimates, would comprise about 55 percent of the state population. Especially in the Mat-Su, but in many places elsewhere in the state, a significant number of these people think their interests have suffered because of the political influence of the state’s commercial fishing industry, which has long punched above its weight.
Commercial fishermen are still revered in some parts of the state, and UCIDA claimed partial credit for helping get independent Alaska Gov. Bill Walker elected in 2014. It was, however, a different story come 2018.
Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy turned his back on the commercial fishing industry and won the election despite journalist Laine Welch – a syndicated Alaska columnist and the defacto fisheries reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, the state’s largest newspaper – calling him “a disaster for Alaska fishing communities and the fishing industry” and promoting an effort to stop his candidacy in the Republican primary.
There are no indications non-commercial fishermen are single-issue voters, but in a statewide election in Alaska in these times, identifying as a commercial fisherman comes with a downside as well as an upside.
Maybe Gross spent too much time in his old hometown of Juneau, which is the Panhandle and regularly out of touch with the politics of the rest of the state. Maybe he got sold by all-knowing advisors. Whatever it was, all that beautifully shot video of him at the helm of a pricey gillnetter surely cost him more votes than it won.
If Gross was going to play the commercial fisherman card, he should have at least borrowed a beat-up bowpicker that didn’t shout “rich guy with a boat worth more than he makes in the fishery!”
Number four: That bear.
If Gross did kill a grizzly bear in self-defense – a claim that is highly debatable – he should have followed the lead of Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, the Congressmen since almost forever.
Young has a grizzly bear hide hanging on the wall of his Washington, D.C. office filled with heads of big game he has killed. But he doesn’t brag about this on the campaign trail.
If you did it, you don’t need to brag about it. Gross’s boasting about killing a bear just made him come across as a phony.
Number five: Independent(ence).
Gross hid from the Democrat/liberal label and tried to sell himself to Alaskans as an “independent.” That just doesn’t work when you’re being embraced by California Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democrat vice-presidential candidate, and other top Democrats.
The Midnight Sun, a left-leaning Alaska website funded by Lottsfeldt, tried to help by positioning Gross as the little-bit-pregnant candidate, calling him a Democrat-backed independent.
Gross would have been better advised to embrace the Democrat label and run as one as former Sen. Mark Begich successfully did. With President Donald Trump’s well-documented problems with the truth putting honesty in the national political spotlight, it just doesn’t look good to be claiming you’re not a Democrat while acting like a Democrat.
But then the Gross campaign – no matter who was running it – never seemed to understand the lay of the land in the 49th state in 2020.
The campaign might, in fact, have outlined much of what it planned to do wrong in the five bullet points provided to the Daily Kos, a left-leaning news site in July. These were reasons pitched for why Alaskans should make Gross their next Senator:
“✔ Lifelong Alaskan. (Few care. The majority of Alaskans arrived from elsewhere. Many of them get tired of the Alaska ranking of status by how long you’ve lived here.)
“✔ Bought a commercial fishing boat at age 14. (Right. The only Alaskan teenagers who can afford the boat – let alone the necessary fishing permit – are those whose parents are stinking rich or well-connected. Gross’s late father, a former state attorney general, was the latter.)
“✔ Put himself through college and medical school. (Sort of like he bought a commercial fishing boat at age 14. Nobody believes this after the claim to being a 14-year-old, self-financed commercial fisherman.)
“✔Renowned orthopedic surgeon serving Alaskans for decades. (Except he publicly stated he quit working as a doctor to go back to school at the University of Southern California only to again go to work as a doctor in Petersburg, a Southeast community of 3,000 with a tiny hospital. Why exactly he bounced in and out of medicine was never clear, which fueled more than a few rumors.)
“✔ Killed a grizzly bear in self-defense. (Well maybe, and not the sort of thing you brag about in a political campaign even if you did it. You can be the Daniel Boone candidate or the doctor candidate, but campaigning as Dr. Daniel Boone is a tough sell unless, of course, your given name is Daniel Boone. )
Now, for Thanskgiving, let’s all give thanks the election season is over.