The biggest challenge facing independent U.S. Senate candidate Dr. Al Gross may be persuading voters that he really is an independent. At a Wednesday, Sept. 23 campaign rally in Cordova, Gross denied that he was beholden to the Democratic Party, despite the fact that he was nominated by the Alaska Democratic Party to challenge Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan.
“Dan Sullivan’s calling me a liberal,” Gross said at the event. “I don’t even know what he’s saying about me at this point, but it’s all a bunch of lies. I’ve been an independent since I was 18.”
Gross was enthusiastically received by the approximately 50 Cordovans who gathered for an informal Q&A at Mt. Eccles Elementary School’s rooftop basketball court. Nancy Bird introduced Gross to the public and ensured that the audience followed social distancing guidelines. Previous plans for a meet-and-greet by Gross had been stymied by stormy weather that prevented him from reaching Cordova by air.
Gross will challenge Sullivan in the Nov. 3 U.S. Senate elections held concurrently with the presidential election. Alaskan Independence Party candidate John Howe, write-in nonpartisan candidate Sid Hill and write-in Green Party candidate Jed Whittaker will also compete in the election.
Gross spent almost 20 years running a private orthopedic practice in Juneau before turning his efforts toward influencing public healthcare policy. Gross said that the inequalities in access to health care that he observed while working as an orthopedic surgeon helped propel him toward running for Senate. At the Sept. 23 event, Gross strongly criticized the Republican party for what he described as its failure to deliver a viable health care policy, its climate-change denialism and its invasive anti-abortion and anti-marijuana policies. Gross also said that, if elected, he would prioritize making federal funds available to repair Alaska’s ailing ferry system, a solution that was dismissed as unlikely by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who made a campaign visit to Cordova Aug. 31-Sept. 1.
Gross and Sullivan have carried out pugilistic campaigns marked by attack ads accusing one another of holding hidden allegiances: Sullivan to the Pebble mine project, and Gross to the Democratic left. In a Sept. 9 statement, National Republican Senatorial Committee Press Secretary Joanna Rodriguez accused Gross of using an independent label to “hoodwink” Alaska voters while maintaining an undeclared loyalty to the Democrats.
“Al Gross’ scheming to mislead Alaska voters is being rewarded with big spending on his behalf by none other than Chuck Schumer and the national Democrats,” Rodriguez said. “Gross is officially bought and paid for by extreme liberals, and if given the chance he’ll go to Washington and be a rubber stamp for their agenda to wipe out Alaska’s oil and gas industry, raise taxes and defund law enforcement.”
At the Sept. 23 event, Gross attempted to rebut these accusations, saying that he supports restrictions on immigration that prioritize the employment opportunities of American workers, and that he doesn’t wish to curtail gun ownership other than requiring background checks for the purchase of military-style assault weapons. Gross said he had only met Sen. Chuck Schumer for 20 minutes, and had never met Democratic figures such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
“Sullivan’s already saying I’m Chuck Schumer’s hand-picked candidate, which is about as absurd as you can get,” Gross said. “There I was on my gillnetter, and my cell phone rang, and it was Chuck Schumer — I don’t think so! This was my idea… I’ll caucus with [Democrats], but I’m not beholden to them. On issues like guns and immigration, I’m much more in alignment with the Republican Party. I will vote with those parties on those issues, or other issues.”