Meet Alaska’s candidates for the U.S. Senate ahead of the Aug. 18 primaries

Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 10:58 AM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska currently has seven candidates running to be the state’s next U.S. senator. The Aug. 18 primaries will decide which candidates represent their parties at the general election on Nov. 3.

Sen. Dan Sullivan is the Republican incumbent, he was elected in 2014. Sullivan is running unopposed as Alaska’s GOP senate candidate and will proceed to the general election as his party’s nominee.

“What I’m going to do is run on my record and vision for the state,” Sullivan said. The former Alaska attorney general and Department of Natural Resources commissioner says he first ran in 2014 to oppose an “anti-Alaska agenda” in Congress and the White House.

Sullivan says “historic progress” has been made in resource development, protecting the Second Amendment and military spending since he came to the Senate.

Alaska’s junior senator is pitching his campaign as being against national Democrats, suggesting that a vote for the Democratic Party in Alaska could see Sen. Chuck Schumer become majority leader. “The anti-Alaska agenda will be enacted again,” he said.

Running against Sullivan are three candidates for the Democratic nomination.

Dr. Al Gross is a lifelong Alaskan and running for the Democratic nomination as an independent.

“I will certainly be a hard brake on the liberal left of the Democratic Party which is something I think the party needs,” Gross said.

The orthopedic surgeon and commercial fisherman says one of his priorities is lowering health care costs in Alaska. “We should offer a public option so people can buy Medicare at cost,” he said.

Gross is adamant that he doesn’t support Medicare for all which he characterizes as a potential “government takeover” of health care. In 2017, Gross wrote an opinion piece for the Anchorage Daily News where he advocated for a single-payer health care system.

If elected to the Senate, Gross would be taking on his first role in government. He believes he is ready to be a senator, having worked in leadership positions all his life and having grown up in Juneau with father Av Gross, an Alaska attorney general under Gov. Jay Hammond.

Democrat Edgar Blatchford is running against Gross for the party’s nomination. Blatchford was born in Nome and grew up in Seward. He was the mayor of Seward from 1999 until 2003 and was twice a commissioner under the Hickel and Murkowski administrations.

“I’m very concerned about the future of this state,” he said. If elected, Blatchford wants to tackle high rates of unemployment, suicide and other social challenges across Alaska.

Blatchford is frustrated that the Alaska Democrats endorsed Gross last October. “And even today, people are encouraging me to step aside,” he said.

That frustration is also felt by independent Chris Cumings who works for a nonprofit that provides services for people with developmental disabilities and the elderly.

Cumings is upfront about his challenges with substance abuse and mental illness. “I’m in recovery from opioid addiction, I’ve been sober for a little over two years now,” he said.

Cumings said he has received a positive response from his supporters. “They appreciate that brutal 100% honesty,” he said.

The 35-year-old from Ketchikan describes himself as left of the Democratic mainstream. Cumings is a strong supporter of Medicare for all and expanding child care.

Neither Cumings nor Blatchford have made campaign finance disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. Filings from Sullivan and Gross show that both candidates have raised over $5 million each for the 2020 campaign.

John Howe is set to represent the Alaska Independence Party. Like Sullivan, Howe doesn’t have a primary opponent and is set to represent the party in November.

Howe is focused on defending individual liberties and abolishing taxes.

“Yes, I want to abolish taxes, that is my direction,” he said. “As far as being actually able to do it, no, a person is not going to be able to do it right away in the Senate.”

Howe, a machinist based out of Fairbanks, wants funding government to be done voluntarily.

Two other candidates need to submit 2,586 signatures from registered Alaska voters to the Division of Elections by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday to appear on the general election ballot.

Jed Whittaker, a candidate for the Green Party, would not disclose if he had the required number of signatures. “I cannot reveal my campaign strategy at this time,” he said on Thursday afternoon, explaining he would have more information to release on Monday.

Whittaker has run in campaigns in Alaska for the past 31 years.

Sid Hill, a non-affiliated candidate, says he currently does not have the required signatures to appear on the general election ballot and is planning to run as a write-in candidate. He describes himself as “pro Trump” but not beholden to a party.

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