JUNEAU — Voters are deciding Alaska’s closely watched U.S. Senate race, with Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan facing a challenge from independent Al Gross.
Gross, who has said he would caucus with Democrats and is the party’s nominee, outraised Sullivan in a state that has long leaned Republican. The race drew outside attention with control of the Senate in play. Over the last 40 years, Alaska voters have elected just one Democrat — Mark Begich — to the U.S. Senate. Begich served one term before losing a tight race to Sullivan in 2014, when control of the Senate also was on the line.
Gross told supporters he expected a close race; Sullivan’s campaign expressed confidence heading into the race’s final days.
Sullivan, who waved signs in Anchorage as part of his last get-out-the-vote efforts Tuesday, said an early takeaway from re-election wins by colleagues, such as Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa, “is a theme that I think’s going to be the theme of our race, which is, all the money in the world can’t buy an election.”
“You can throw millions and millions and tens of millions into a race, but if you can’t talk about your vision, if you can’t talk about what you’ve accomplished, if you can’t talk about what you want to get done going forward, then people aren’t going to listen. And that’s exactly what’s happened,” he said.
Sullivan said he felt good about his race.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, who won the state in 2016, and Democrat Joe Biden were vying for Alaska’s three electoral votes.
As of Tuesday, about 110,000 absentee votes had been cast, according to Division of Elections, which does not plan to being counting those ballots until next week. That means the outcome of some races may not be known on election night.
Some voters said they wanted change down the ballot; others wanted to keep the current team in place. Others still weren’t crazy about their options.
In Juneau, voter Tony Talbot, who said he is a Democrat but leans more independent, said he hoped to see change. “It would be nice to have some civility back in this nation,” he said. “I’d like to see this general idea of people being able to agree to disagree without fearmongering and hatefulness.”
In the Senate race, he said he voted for Gross. “It’s been so long with what we’ve had. It was nice to have new views. It almost didn’t matter who it was. I mean it does, but,” he said.
Kenny Skaflestad, a Republican from Hoonah, a small community about 40 air miles from Juneau, said he voted for Sullivan. Skaflestad said he knows and respects Gross, who grew up in southeast Alaska, and Gross was once his doctor.
“So there was some decision-making there as I looked at things,” he said. But he said his choice of Sullivan came from his “core beliefs.”
“My vote pursued my yearning for Alaska to be on a prosperous and forward and honest path,” said Skaflestad, who is also running for a state House seat.
Sullivan sought to paint Gross as a liberal who would side with Democrats on an “anti-Alaska agenda,” such as shutting down the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. Sullivan defended the Trump administration as delivering for Alaska on issues such as energy and investments in the military and rural law enforcement.
Gross, who said he supports drilling in the refuge’s coastal plain, cast Sullivan, a Marine Corps reservist, as timid and a “puppet” for Trump. An orthopedic surgeon, Gross said he supports a public option for individuals and small businesses on the health insurance exchange. Sullivan accused Gross of getting rich off Alaskans as a doctor and said Gross had “no credibility” on health care issues. Gross has said he left his full-time practice in 2013 and increasingly got involved in health care advocacy.