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Independent Al Gross wins Alaska Democratic Senate primary

Independent Al Gross wins Alaska Democratic Senate primary
© Facebook: Al Gross

Al Gross, a commercial fisherman and physician, won the Democratic Senate primary in Alaska on Tuesday, setting him up to challenge Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Smart or senseless for Biden to spend time in Georgia, Iowa? Alaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Biden's oil stance jars Democrats in tough races MORE (R) in November. 

Gross, an independent, is the Democratic Party’s first Senate nominee in Alaska who is not a registered Democrat. The state party changed its rules in 2016 to allow candidates who are not registered Democrats to seek its nomination. 

He faced two challengers in the Tuesday primary: Democrat Edgar Blatchford and independent Chris Cumings. The Associated Press declared Gross the winner with 75 percent of the vote. 

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Democrats are increasingly optimistic about their chances in the Alaska Senate race. Polling in the contest has been scarce, though one survey released last month by the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling showed Gross trailing Sullivan by 5 points. 

Flipping Sullivan’s seat is still expected to be an uphill battle for Democrats. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, currently rates the race as likely Republican, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpStephen Miller: Trump to further crackdown on illegal immigration if he wins US records 97,000 new COVID-19 cases, shattering daily record Biden leads Trump by 8 points nationally: poll MORE carried the state in 2016 by nearly 15 points.

Still, Democrats are hopeful that Gross’s status as an independent will help attract center-right and moderate voters in a state known for a fierce independent streak. 

Gross is the son of former Alaska Attorney General Avrum Gross, who served under former Republican Gov. Jay Hammond from 1974 until 1980. In an interview last month, Al Gross told The Hill that his father’s working relationship with Hammond influenced his decision to register as an independent.

He said he switched his voter registration to Democrat briefly when Trump won his 2016 White House bid “as a protest.” If he defeats Sullivan in November, Gross will join the Senate’s other two independents, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTlaib, Ocasio-Cortez offer bill to create national public banking system Cutting defense spending by 10 percent would debilitate America's military The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Election night could be a bit messy MORE (I-Vt.) and Angus KingAngus KingAlaska Senate race sees cash surge in final stretch Bitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Ocasio-Cortez: Republicans don't believe Democrats 'have the stones to play hardball' MORE (I-Maine), in caucusing with the chamber’s Democrats. 

“Independents win here in Alaska,” Gross told The Hill. “A lot of people consider Alaska to be a deep red state and it’s really not. … I think people in Alaska are open to the right message regardless of party.”