New U.S. Senate candidate in Alaska touts credentials as doctor, fisherman, grizzly-slayer

Al Gross, a fisherman and orthopedic surgeon, grins after registering his U.S. Senate campaign in Anchorage on Tuesday. He’s running as an independent against incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan. (Photo by Nat Herz / Alaska Public Media)

Republican U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan has drawn his first serious opponent: Al Gross, a doctor and fisherman from the Southeast town of Petersburg.

Gross, an independent, registered his campaign Tuesday morning at the Anchorage office of the Division of Elections.

A promotional video released with Gross’ announcement features shots of him on his fishing boat, the Ocean Pearl, as a narrator touts his Alaska credentials.

“Bought his first fishing boat with a bank loan at age 14,” the ad says. “And killed a grizzly bear in self-defense after it snuck up on him.”

Gross, 57, owns two limited-entry permits to fish for salmon, according to a state database. He also once earned as much as $2.5 million a year as an orthopedic surgeon, but he quit his practice and now wants to reform the health care system.

In an interview after registering his candidacy and paying the $100 fee, Gross said that as an independent, he’d be well-positioned to broker a deal on health care with members of both parties. One of the failures of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, he said, was its lack of GOP buy-in.

“It needs to be a bipartisan solution,” Gross said.

Avrum Gross served as Alaska’s attorney general from 1974 to 1980. (Photo courtesy Alaska State Library)

Gross has a bipartisan family history. His father, the late Av Gross, was a Democrat who worked as attorney general for former Republican Gov. Jay Hammond.

Al Gross has been registered as nonpartisan for much of the past 25 years, though in early 2017, he switched his affiliation to Democratic before changing back to nonpartisan early last year.

“When the time came for me to choose my party, I chose nonpartisan because to me, that represents Alaska,” he said. “I’m not doing this for partisan politics.”

Nevertheless, Gross is seeking support from the Alaska Democratic Party by running in its primary election. And he’s using a veteran Democratic ad-maker, Mark Putnam, who worked with Mark Begich in his 2014 U.S. Senate campaign.

At the end of his new video, Gross criticizes Sullivan for voting along party lines. During a nearly two-month listening tour that took him from Southeast Alaska to the North Slope – part of it on the Ocean Pearl – Gross said he heard from Alaskans who want change.

“People are very concerned about the future of the state of Alaska, about the state of our educational system, about jobs and our economy,” he said. “Alaska’s been in recession for a long time and they’re not happy with the leadership that we have in the state.”

A spokesman for Sullivan’s re-election campaign, Mike Dubke, declined to comment on Gross’ announcement.

Jim Lottsfeldt, a strategist who ran a super PAC aligned with Begich in 2014, said Gross’ initial messaging appears to pick up where Begich left off: attacking Sullivan, a native of Ohio, as an outsider with a comparatively short history in the state.

“Positioning as the homegrown Alaskan versus the carpetbagger – I think that’s going to be the tenor of it,” Lottsfeldt said.

Lottsfeldt worked with Gross on a pair of aborted citizens initiatives that the two had hoped to put on the ballot in 2018. He’s not working on Gross’ campaign – but by noon Tuesday, he said the candidate had already called to ask for a contribution.

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