Odd Alaska House race takes new twist as Gross plans to quit

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An unprecedented race in Alaska to fill the state’s U.S. House seat has taken an odd twist, with one of the top vote-getters in the recent special primary, independent Al Gross, suddenly and with little explanation announcing plans to end his campaign.

“Trust that I am making the right decision,” Gross said in a statement to supporters Tuesday, the day after disclosing his plans.

He added that 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.”

Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, was in third place in the special primary, behind former Gov. Sarah Palin and businessman Nick Begich, both Republicans, 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.

State elections officials planned a final ballot count Tuesday in a race that featured a whopping 48 candidates. Officials have targeted certification of the special primary by Saturday.

This was the first election under a system approved by voters that scraps party primaries and institutes ranked choice voting in general elections. All 48 candidates in the special primary appeared on the same, one-page ballot.

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 over the weekend.

Then later in the day 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.

The state Division of Elections website on Tuesday showed Gross as having withdrawn from the August regular primary. The deadline to withdraw from that race is Saturday. Republican former lawmaker John Coghill and Democrat Mike Milligan have also withdrawn, according to the division website.

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.

Gross, in the statement Monday, said there are “two outstanding Alaska Native women in this race who would both serve our state well.” The campaign confirmed he was speaking about Peltola and Republican Tara Sweeney, who was in fifth place in the special primary.

Sweeney’s campaign manager, Karina Waller, said by email late Monday that Sweeney had been out of cell range and that a comment “will be forthcoming once she is back in communication.”

Sweeney was an assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior during the Trump administration.

The Division of Elections was looking into the question of whether the fifth place finisher in the special primary would be bumped up to fourth place if Gross withdraws, division spokesperson Tiffany Montemayor said by email Monday.

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.