Gross withdrawal scrambles Alaska US House race

FILE - Al Gross is seen during a debate on Oct. 23, 2020, in Anchorage, Alaska. Gross, an independent running for Alaska's only U.S. House seat, said late Monday, June 20, 2022, that he is ending his campaign. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media via AP, File)
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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A top Alaska elections official said Tuesday that the fifth-place finisher in the special primary for Alaska's U.S. House seat will not advance to an August special election following the withdrawal of independent Al Gross, who was in third place.

Gail Fenumiai, director of the Division of Elections, said that's because the withdrawal occurred less than 64 days before the scheduled Aug. 16 special election. In a letter to an attorney for Republican Nick Begich's campaign, she pointed to a provision of law laying out the timeline.

Fenumiai said Gross withdrew on Tuesday and that the division would remove his name from the special election ballot. She said an upcoming Sunday withdrawal deadline for the special election was “to give candidates a chance to remove their names from the ballot after the Division certifies the election but before it begins printing ballots.”

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She said anyone who disagrees with the decisions outlined by the division should “file suit immediately,” citing the timeline to print ballots to meet deadlines and keep the special election on track.

Elections officials said they completed their final ballot counts on Tuesday. Officials are aiming to certify the special primary by Saturday.

Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, was in third place in the June 11 special primary, behind two Republicans — former Gov. Sarah Palin and Begich, a businessman — and ahead of Democrat Mary Peltola, a former state lawmaker.

Gross was positioned to advance to the August special election as one of the top four vote-getters under a new open primary system. But on Monday evening, he suddenly announced plans to end his campaign.

"Trust that I am making the right decision," Gross said in a statement to supporters Tuesday.

He said he and his wife “have decided it is just too hard to run as a nonpartisan candidate in this race. I still believe that when people with differing opinions listen to each other and work together, problems get solved. Maybe we can reach that place sometime in the future. I hope we do.”

The candidate in fifth place is Republican Tara Sweeney, who was an assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior during the Trump administration.

Her campaign on social media said Sweeney “is currently visiting an area of the state inaccessible by phone or email. When she returns, we’ll make a campaign update. Thank you for your patience and support!”

Sweeney's campaign manager did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the ballot decision outlined by Fenumiai.

This was the first election under a system approved by voters that ends party primaries and institutes ranked choice voting for general elections. A whopping 48 candidates ran in the special primary.

Gross had given no public indication that a shakeup was coming.

On social media Friday, Gross said he was “thrilled” to earn the endorsement of an electrical workers union.

“Working men and women can trust that they can always count on me to fight for them and stand up to powerful corporate and special interests on their behalf,” he said in a fundraising appeal that also featured the words “Stop Sarah Palin!”

“Chip in today to help us bring independent leadership to Alaska,” the post says.

On Monday, his campaign posted a photo of him at a brewery, with a description stating that he and his wife had “enjoyed a beer” there over the weekend.

But Monday evening, his campaign released a statement saying he would withdraw from the special and regular elections for the seat left vacant by the death in March of Republican Rep. Don Young. Young had held the seat for 49 years.

Palin, Begich, Peltola and Sweeney are among the candidates who have filed to run in the regular primary.

Gross, who sought to cast Palin as a quitter for resigning partway through her term as governor in 2009, did not make himself available to reporters after announcing plans to drop his campaign.

His campaign did not respond to emails seeking comment Tuesday. A woman who answered the door at the Gross home in Anchorage told a reporter who asked to speak to Al Gross that they were not taking any press and asked the reporter to leave the property.

Gross, in the statement Monday, said there are “two outstanding Alaska Native women in this race who would both serve our state well, and I encourage my supporters to stay engaged and consider giving their first-place vote to whichever of them best matches their own values."

The campaign confirmed he was speaking about Peltola and Sweeney.

The August special election will feature ranked choice voting and determine who will serve the remainder of Young’s term. The August regular primary and November general election will determine who will serve a new two-year term starting in January.

Gross ran for U.S. Senate in 2020 with the endorsement of state Democrats.

But during the House race, he got crosswise with some Democrats when in a newspaper interview he did not commit to caucusing with Democrats if elected. He later said he would.


Associated Press reporter Mark Thiessen contributed from Anchorage.