Alaska's Senate race rocked by leaked videos, China ties and even a dead bear
With just a few weeks to go before the November elections, a Senate race in a deeply republican state begins to attract attention.
A poll published on Sept. 28 found that Alaska Republican Senator Dan Sullivan had a wafer-thin 1-point lead over his main opponent, Al Gross, an orthopedic surgeon.
While Gross is technically independent, the Democrats support him as part of the party's efforts to achieve a majority in the narrowly divided Senate. And their fight has been rocked by a number of controversies, including leaked videos and an argument over a suspected bear attack.
Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, at a Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing on May 7. (Al Drago / Pool via Reuters)
Gross, whose father was the Democratic Attorney General in the 1970s, relied on his colorful background to get Sullivan off the field. In his ads, he was described as "born after an avalanche" and alleged that he "killed a grizzly bear in self-defense after sneaking up on him".
Gross and his campaign were recently accused of not actually killing this grizzly. However, a newly published report from the Alaska Department of Public Safety appears to support him.
The race attracted some national attention last month when clandestinely taped video leaked by an environmental group, Tom Collier, now the former CEO of a mining partnership seeking the development of the Alaska Pebble Mine, spoke about his impact on Sullivan.
While Sullivan had issued a statement indicating that he opposed the Pebble Mine project because of its environmental impact, the footage showed Collier boasting about the company's influence on local officials, indicating that the Senator was hoping To “end the elections” and not do so would ultimately be an obstacle to the project.
Gross asked Sullivan to return donations from Collier. For his part, Sullivan has insisted that he "clearly" believes that the Pebble Mine project "cannot be allowed".
"Any other suggestion is either wishful thinking, an obvious miscarriage of characterization, or a desperate attempt to secure funding for a mine that cannot develop," Sullivan said in a statement.
Sullivan and Gross had a heated argument over these issues. And besides the question of the character of the other, the two also shot at the personal finances of the other.
According to candidate disclosure forms, Gross has net worth between $ 10 million and $ 25 million. Sullivan's campaign has indicated that Gross' portfolio includes "stocks of big pharma companies" and accused him of "hiding" this from Alaskans. Gross’s campaign declined to comment on the claim.
During a controversial debate between the two on Saturday night, Sullivan accused Gross of supporting “radical ideas” by Congress Democrats. Gross countered with Sullivan's family business RPM International, a chemical company founded by his grandfather and currently run by his brother.
Senate candidate Al Gross. (Gross for Senate campaign via AP)
"You've been calling me liberal throughout the campaign, and I'm sick of it. You pick out lies and lies," Gross told Sullivan. "I'm a lot more conservative financially than you ever will be with your tax cuts for your billionaire brother , Your father and other super rich people. "
Financial data show that Sullivan RPM stocks range from $ 1 million to $ 5 million and the company has a manufacturing facility in China, along with other offices in the country. While Sullivan, a reservist, attorney, and former White House employee under President George W. Bush, who was first elected in 2014, was a vocal critic of the Chinese government, he made no mention of the country's role in his family's wealth.
Rusty Gordon, RPM's chief financial officer, told Yahoo News that its business in China accounts for "far less than 0.5% of consolidated sales." Still, Gross told Yahoo News that he believed Sullivan had "two faces" on Beijing.
"It's shocking, but not surprising, that Dan Sullivan would be playing a big game about China while his family business was ... doing business with the Chinese government," Gross said.
When asked about the criticism, Sullivan's campaign manager Matt Shuckerow pointed out that the Senator had criticized Beijing but "did not say that people in China cannot do business".
"He was a China hawk," said Shuckerow. "He went out of his way to hold China accountable."
Along with the other controversies, even the ballot itself was challenged in the race. And it can be the drama that defines the campaign.
Gross - who was registered for about a year as a Democrat, five years as a Republican, and the rest as unaffiliated - has said that if he wins, he will face the Democrats, mostly because of his dissatisfaction with the way Republicans are done Health care and climate change have been dealt with. However, he has announced that he is likely to part ways with the Democrats on guns and immigration.
Despite his status as a registered independent, Gross won the Democratic nomination and stands for election as a Democratic candidate for the general election. Mike Carey, columnist and former editor-in-chief of the Anchorage Daily News, said the party affiliation issue was a "big problem" for Gross.
A "Closed" sign will appear on the window of the Alaska Democratic Party headquarters in Anchorage, Alaska, USA on April 11, 2020. (Yereth Rosen / Reuters)
"The majority of the electorate here is independent, but this is a pretty conservative electorate and it would really take a while to vote for a Democrat," Carey told Yahoo News.
Sullivan's seat changed hands in tight races during the last two elections. In 2008, Democrat Mark Begich defeated longtime Republican Ted Stevens by less than two points in a race marked by allegations of corruption against Stevens. Six years later, Sullivan beat Begich by just over 2 points.
Carey also noted that Gross' independent status is a key advantage over Begich.
"In 2014, Begich had one thing wrong with him," said Carey. "Better media, personally better, better in every way, except for one thing: his party identification."
Sullivan's camp argues that the fact that Gross opted for Democratic elementary school and received party support shows that he is not truly independent.
“He sought and secured the approval of the Alaska Democratic Party ... and the National Democratic campaign machine. He has received their financial support, ”said Shuckerow, Sullivan's campaign manager. "I don't know what else you have to say. Al Gross is a Democrat. He's running as a Democratic candidate."
Polls have been sparse but suggest the race could be close. Ahead of last month's poll that gave Sullivan a 1-point lead, a Public Policy Polling poll in August found a 43-43 tie with many undecided voters up for grabs. However, the Sullivan campaign found that both polls were from Democratic affiliates.
The non-partisan Cook Political Report still rates the race as "likely Republican". The University of Virginia Center for Politics, however, has only "leaned" against Sullivan's path.
Larry Sabato, the director of the UVA Center for Politics, said "people should watch these races," which have a slight bias. He also alluded to the Seat's tumultuous recent history as a reason to keep an eye on Alaska, saying voters in the state would "like to kick people out".
"Alaska is wild," said Sabato. "Not only in relation to nature, but its politics is wild."
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