Gross withdrawal scrambles Alaska US House race

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A top Alaskan election official said Tuesday that the fifth in the special primary for Alaska’s seat in the U.S. House would not qualify for a special election in August after the withdrawal of the independent Al Gross, who was in third place.

Gail Fenumiai, director of the Elections Division, said it was because the withdrawal took place less than 64 days before the special election scheduled for August 16. In a letter to Republican Nick Begich’s campaign attorney, she pointed to a provision of the law establishing the timeline.

Fenumiai said Gross stepped down on Tuesday and the division would remove his name from the special ballot. She said the next withdrawal deadline on Sunday for the special election was “to give candidates a chance to remove their names from the ballot after the Division has certified the election but before it begins printing. ballot papers”.

She said anyone who disagrees with the rulings outlined by the division should “sue immediately,” citing the ballot printing schedule to meet deadlines and keep the special election on track. way.

Election officials said they completed the final counting of ballots on Tuesday. Officials aim to certify the special primary by Saturday.

Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, was in third place in the June 11 special primary, behind two Republicans — former Gov. Sarah Palin and Begich, a businessman — and ahead of Democrat Mary Peltola, a former lawmaker in the US. ‘State.

Gross was well positioned to qualify for the August special election as one of the top four voters under a new open primary system. But on Monday night he suddenly announced his intention to end his campaign.

“Believe I made the right decision,” Gross said in a statement to supporters on Tuesday.

He said he and his wife “decided it was just too hard to run as a non-partisan candidate in this race. I still believe that when people of different opinions listen to each other and work together, problems resolve. Maybe we can reach this place in the future. Hopefully we will.

The fifth-place candidate is Republican Tara Sweeney, who served as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the US Department of the Interior during the Trump administration.

His social media campaign said Sweeney is “currently visiting an area of ​​the state that cannot be reached by phone or email. When she returns, we will provide a campaign update. Thank you for your patience and support!” “

Sweeney’s campaign manager did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the ballot decision described by Fenumiai.

It was the first election under a voter-approved system that ends party primaries and institutes voting by choice for general elections. No less than 48 candidates presented themselves for the special primary.

Gross had given no public indication that a reshuffle was coming.

On social media on Friday, Gross said he was “thrilled” to get an endorsement from an electricians union.

“Working men and women can trust that they can always count on me to fight for them and to defend powerful corporate and private interests on their behalf,” he said in a fundraising appeal that included also the words “Stop Sarah Palin!”

“Participate today to help us bring independent leadership to Alaska,” the post reads.

On Monday, his campaign posted a photo of him at a beer hall, with a description that he and his wife “enjoyed a beer” there over the weekend.

But on Monday night, his campaign issued a statement saying he would withdraw from the special and regular election for the seat left vacant by the March death of Republican Representative Don Young. Young had held the seat for 49 years.

Palin, Begich, Peltola and Sweeney are among the candidates who have shown up to run in the regular primary.

Gross, who sought to cast Palin as a quitter for resigning midway through her gubernatorial term in 2009, did not make himself available to reporters after announcing his intention to drop out of his campaign.

His campaign did not respond to emails seeking comment on Tuesday. A woman who answered the door of Gross’ home in Anchorage told a reporter who asked to speak to Al Gross that they were not taking any press and asked the reporter to leave the property.

Gross, in Monday’s statement, said there are “two outstanding Alaskan Native women in this race who would serve our state well, and I encourage my supporters to stay engaged and consider casting their first vote. to the one among them that best corresponds to their own values.

The campaign confirmed he was talking about Peltola and Sweeney.

The August special election will feature ranked choice voting and will determine who will serve the remainder of Young’s term. Regular primary elections in August and general elections in November will determine who will serve a new two-year term beginning in January.

Gross ran for the U.S. Senate in 2020 with the endorsement of state Democrats.

But during the House race, he crossed paths with some Democrats when, in a newspaper interview, he did not commit to caucusing with Democrats if elected. He later said he would.

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Associated Press reporter Mark Thiessen contributed from Anchorage.

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