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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 SullivanConcerns grow over China's Taiwan plans China conducts amphibious landing drill near Taiwan after senators' visit US, Taiwan to discuss trade, investments, Blinken says 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 TrumpBiden prepares to confront Putin Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting Senate investigation of insurrection falls short 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 SandersThe Memo: Democratic tensions will only get worse as left loses patience McConnell seeks to divide and conquer Democrats Socially-distanced 'action figure' photo of G7 leaders goes viral MORE (I-Vt.) and Angus KingAngus KingProgressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema Senior Biden cyber nominees sail through Senate hearing Pentagon chief: Military has already started 'over-the-horizon' operations in Afghanistan 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.”