After weeks of attack ads and snipes at each other in the media, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and challenger Al Gross laid into each other in real time during the 90-minute premiere debate in their race for a U.S. Senate seat.
The debate, hosted by ComFish Alaska and the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, took place over Zoom and was centered around fisheries policy. The candidates early and often folded in central issues of the race, including campaign financing, the federal COVID-19 relief package and Pebble Mine.
Sullivan, the Republican incumbent, repeatedly characterized Gross as a threat to giving Democrats control of the Senate.
“He will ... empower the radical left in the Senate, in the Congress,” Sullivan said in his closing remarks. “That has an anti-Alaska agenda. An agenda focused on shutting down fishing opportunities, more monuments, more Endangered Species Act designations. This is a huge threat to our state.”
Gross, standing outside and wearing a camo jacket, talked of his childhood in Southeast Alaska and growing up as a fisherman. He aggressively went at Sullivan for not denouncing the development of the Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska earlier in the process.
Repeatedly, Gross used the words of ousted Pebble executive Tom Collier, caught on video saying Sullivan was “hiding in a corner.” Gross used the words in talking about Sullivan’s stance on Pebble, but also other issues, including President Donald Trump’s trade war with China which increased tariffs on Alaskan seafood exports.
“I wouldn’t stand back and be silent in the corner like Dan has been on Pebble mine, that’s for sure,” Gross said. “And sure wouldn’t be silent and in the corner when it comes to the trade war with China.”
Sullivan said he made sure the process was based on science rather than politics. When federal agencies said the project should not move forward, he agreed.
“The Pebble Mine is dead, and I am going to keep it that way,” Sullivan said. The senator also said he would give the donations his campaign received from Collier to charity — a request Gross has centered campaign ads around.
Sullivan also brought up his support of and work on the CARES Act, which brought financial relief to Alaska’s fishing industry. Sullivan went after Gross for an ad where he attacks Sullivan for voting for a “$2 trillion bailout bill.”
Gross said bailouts aren’t always bad, and while he would have supported the CARES Act, he said he would have fought harder to steer more of the money to Alaska.
Following the debate, both campaigns sent out messaging, highlighting the points Sullivan and Gross made throughout the debate.
“With Dr. Al Gross as their next senator, Alaskans will have a thoughtful leader who deeply understands their issues as a commercial fisherman himself and wants to advocate on their behalf in the Senate,” the Gross campaign email said. “Dan Sullivan on the other hand has spent the last six years claiming to represent Alaskans while living in the back pockets of out-of-state corporations and Pebble Mine executives.”
Sullivan’s campaign email said the senator highlighted his work for the Alaskan fishing industry, in stark contrast with Gross, who lost his composure and failed to hide his allegiance to national Democrats.
“It was sad to see Al Gross repeatedly disparage the United Fishermen of Alaska and their endorsement of Senator Sullivan, particularly after he unsuccessfully solicited their endorsement in February," campaign manager Matt Shuckerow said in the campaign email.