The latest quirk in an already highly unusual race came late Monday as Al Gross, an independent and one of the top-four vote-getters in the recent special primary election for Alaska’s U.S. House seat, announced he is ending his campaign.
Gross in a statement said it was “with great hope for Alaska’s future” that he has decided to end his campaign. He 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.”
His campaign said he was referring to Democrat Mary Peltola, a former state lawmaker from Bethel, and Republican Tara Sweeney, who was assistant secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Interior Department during the Trump administration.
Peltola was in fourth place in the June 11 special primary and Sweeney was in fifth. The top four vote-getters in the special primary are to advance to a special election in August in which ranked choice voting will be used.
State elections officials plan to finish counting ballots from the special primary on Tuesday and to certify the race results by Saturday. Gross was in third, behind former Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich, both Republicans.
Gross’ campaign said he is not doing interviews at this time.
Gross’ announcement comes days after his campaign touted the endorsement of an electrical workers union and posted fundraising appeals on social media that took swipes at Palin. One such video post featured the word “quitter” over Palin’s face. Palin resigned as governor in 2009, partway through her term.
Hours before the announcement, Gross’ campaign posted a picture of him at a brewing company in Anchorage over the weekend.
The Monday evening statement said Gross is withdrawing from the special election and from the regular election. Peltola and Sweeney have both filed to run for the August regular primary.
Just last week, Sweeney issued a statement saying her goal was to finish in the top four and that it appeared she would “fall just short.” She said she had planned to meet with advisers and supporters to determine “next steps.”
However, on Tuesday the Division of Elections released a letter saying that because Gross was announcing his withdrawal is occurring fewer than 64 days before the special election, his name would be removed from the ballot but the next place candidate will not move up to take his spot. That means there will only be three names on the special election ballot despite Alaska’s election rules stating the top four vote-getters will move on from the primary.
“The special general election is 56 days away. Because there are fewer than 64 days before the election, the statute does not allow the Division of Elections to place the fifth-place candidate on the ballot,” DOE director Gail Fenumiai wrote in response to an inquiry from the Begich campaign and shared with the media.
But that’s only for the race to immediately replace Republican Rep. Don Young who died in March, triggering the special election. Alaskans have yet to cast their votes in the regular primary which will select the top four candidates to contend for a full two-year term in the U.S. House. That vote will take place Aug. 16, the same day as the special election. Gross has withdrawn from the
Fewer candidates have filed to run for that race than the 48 who ran in the special primary, but all of the top five vote-getters in the special primary had previously filed for the regular election. As of Tuesday afternoon, 28 candidates were still registered to run in the regular election for Alaska’s U.S. House seat, though some candidates such as Anchorage Assembly member Christopher Constant have said they intend to drop out of the race. Constant, a Democrat, stated in a letter he would be supporting Peltola’s campaign.
The deadline to withdraw as a candidate for the regular primary is Saturday. The deadline to withdraw as a candidate for the special election is noon on Sunday.
In an email Tuesday, campaign spokesperson Malia Barto said Sweeney was in a part of Alaska inaccessible by phone or email but that her campaign would make an announcement when she returns.
Palin said in a statement Tuesday she hopes Gross’ voters will consider her as their candidate.
“Now that Al Gross supporters lost their candidate, I hope they will take a look at where I stand on the issues, and how I will never stop fighting for the greatest state in the Union,” Palin said. “I welcome the new addition to the top four, and am excited to continue campaigning on resource development, lower fuel costs, affordable groceries, ensuring individual rights…all to create a brighter future for all Alaskans.”
Most of those running in the special primary reported no fundraising to the Federal Election Commission. But Gross reported receiving about $545,000 between March 23 and May 22, about $86,000 less than Palin over roughly the same period.
Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2020 with the endorsement of state Democrats.
But in the House special primary, Alaska Democratic party leaders urged voters to pick from among the six Democrats running.
The party, in a social media post, had referred to Gross as “pandering” after Gross in a newspaper interview did not commit to caucusing with Democrats if elected. Gross later said he would.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire. Becky Boher of the Associated Press contributed to this article.