Alaska US Senate race: Gross trails Sullivan but says math is in his favor

Side by side image of Senator Dan Sullivan and candidate Al Gross, 2020
Sen. Dan Sullivan and challenger Al Gross, 2020

U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross is far behind in the votes counted so far, but his campaign claims he can still beat Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan.

Others who have explored the data scoff at that. Gross campaign manager David Keith is steadfast in his optimism.

“I consider it very realistic and I consider it just a matter of math,” Keith said Friday. “Dan Sullivan got a very large number of votes on election day. We anticipate getting a very large number of votes after election day.”

Gross is now some 58,000 votes behind Sullivan. He has 32% of the vote. Sullivan has 62%.

RELATED: Here’s why Alaska is the slowest in the nation when it comes to vote counting

Tuesday the state Division of Election begins counting more than 130,000 absentee and early ballots. To win, Gross has to capture about 70% of them.

The campaigns know a lot about who cast those outstanding ballots. They can cross-reference the voters on that list to other data sets. Keith claims a Gross win is probable.

“You look at past behavior, both voting behavior and other publicly available information, to kind of build a profile on the vote,” Keith said. “We believe the profile overwhelmingly benefits us. And I think that the results as they start to come in on Tuesday will show that pretty clearly.”

The Gross campaign, in a Twitter appeal, is seeking additional campaign contributions to, as the post says, “help us make sure every vote is counted.”

Keith said the campaign is training volunteers to observe the final ballot count.

Sullivan campaign manager Matt Shuckerow has also studied the data on the uncounted ballots.

“What we know is that roughly a quarter of them are from registered Republicans,” he said.

Another quarter or so are registered Democrats. About half are non-partisan or undeclared.

It’s a relatively safe bet that the registered Republicans voted for Sullivan, Shuckerow said, “so if you look at the remaining votes, Al Gross and his team would have to pull nearly 98% of the remaining votes.”

The Sullivan campaign has profiled the undeclared and non-partisan voters who cast those ballots, and he sees lots of signs that Gross can’t pull it off.

Matt Buxton, editor of The Midnight Sun political blog, wrote that he didn’t see the ballots breaking favorably enough for Gross or U.S. House candidate Alyse Galvin, either.

“Absentees in other states are breaking very hard for the Democrats, but as we are often reminded: This is Alaska,” Buxton wrote.

The publisher of The Midnight Sun, on the other hand, said Gross and Galvin can still win.

“I don’t think it’s helpful to create expectations that that’s going to happen, but it’s certainly possible, based on the data we’ve studied,” said Democratic consultant Jim Lottsfeldt.

Lottsfeldt ran Independent Alaska, a $2 million effort – outside of the candidate’s campaign – that worked to get Gross elected. He said they polled Alaskans after they voted and found that those who said they voted absentee by mail leaned progressive, just as they have in other states.

Of course, political polling was way off this election, but Lottsfeldt said the error was not large enough to account for the leftward tilt in his post-election poll, which he declined to provide.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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