Although a registered independent, Dr. Al Gross won the open primaries to become the Democratic Senate nominee in Alaska. His campaign was once considered to be a long shot, but he dominated the primary by gaining 80% of the vote. Although the people of Alaska are supportive of his bid for Senate, Gross still is a curious figure.
If he wins, Gross plans to remain an independent but will caucus with the Democrats. And on certain key issues, like expanding health care and expanding gun control, he is right in sync with Democrats. On the other hand, Gross isn’t completely on the same page as some other Democrats. He doesn’t believe in Medicare for All or a Green New Deal. “Some of my values are in alignment with the Democratic Party and some are in alignment with the Republican Party,” Gross explains. “As a senator, I will always do what I think is best for the state, irrespective of partisanship.”
A True Alaska Representative
Gross’s campaign ads present him as a real-life Paul Bunyan, showing him with a shotgun over his shoulder and explaining how he killed the bear in self-defense, or talking about how he bought his first fishing boat at the age of 14. The polished and highly produced ads of him skiing down an Alaskan mountain look like the trailer for an action movie.
But don’t be fooled—Gross’s lived experience is not as fantastical. He worked as a surgeon in Alaska, but after he saw how the high costs of health care was hurting the people in his community, he went back to school to get a degree in public health.
Like many rural areas, Alaska struggles with expensive health care. The state’s small population is spread over a large area, the number of health-care providers is limited, and the remoteness of many areas of the state leads to prohibitively high pay for providers.
Unfortunately, the solutions coming from Washington have been far from perfect. Back in 2017, the ACA marketplaces were on the verge of collapse until the state of Alaska stepped in and put together a plan to prevent premiums from rising too high.
These problems with health care partially explains why Gross frames himself as an independent, someone who is solely focused on the issues in Alaska. “I don’t see myself as a partisan at all, I just see myself as an Alaskan sharing Alaskan values,” he said in an interview with Alaska Public Media. And his message has resonated with the voters.
Right now, defeating Trump is the most important objective, so Gross seems like the right candidate. But in the long term, it is still a contested question whether Democrats should embrace moderate candidates like Gross or more left-leaning candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders.
While the Republicans have been singularly united behind Donald Trump, the Democrats still have a great deal of work to do to build an opposing coalition. Today, all over the country candidates and campaign staff are working hard to bring White, Black, Latinx, urban, and rural voters into the party.
So far this strategy seems to be working, but if the Democrats want a party that represents a diverse coalition, they need independent candidates with unique views that represent the people in their state. Like Gross.
Furthermore, independent senators have become more important over the last few years. Senator Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont, brought a new wave of issues and concerns to the forefront of the party in 2016, and his support will be critical to winning younger voters in 2020.
A senator like Gross could have a similar impact on Democratic and rural voters in Alaska this Election Season.
Can Gross Win?
The ability to win elections isn’t the only criteria by which voters should support a politician but it definitely helps. Unlike most independent candidates, Gross is not strapped for resources. He has raised an impressive $5,223,962, almost on par with his Republican opponent Dan Sullivan, who has raised $7,851,403.
He has also received some big endorsements from candidates like Andrew Yang, Pete Butiegg, Kamala Harris, and the Lincoln Project.
This has all been paying off for him. In a poll from early July, Gross lagged 5 points behind his opponent, but in a poll conducted from August 27–28, Gross and his opponent were tied at 43%.
Furthermore, while many states struggle over voting rights, Alaska allows for mail-in voting. So Gross won’t have to worry about potential voter suppression the same way that other candidates do.
Keep your eyes on Dr. Al Gross this November 3.
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