How Al Gross’ decision affects Alaska’s first ranked-choice elections

The move could concentrate support for Mary Peltola

July 7, 2022 7:30 pm
Sarah Palin speaks and Mary Peltola listens at a March 12 forum of candidates for the U.S. House seat left vacant by the death of Don Young. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Sarah Palin speaks and Mary Peltola listens at a March 12 forum of candidates for the U.S. House seat left vacant by the death of Don Young. Al Gross' decision to end his campaign move could concentrate support for Peltola, according to commentary writer Freddie R. Olin IV. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Al Gross’ choice to end his campaign could prove to be a decisive move during the height of the special election to fill the remaining term of the late Congressman Don Young. The move could concentrate support for a candidate who is uniquely positioned to connect with rural Alaska and Alaska Native voters, Mary Peltola. Not only for the special election, but also for the primary election to fill the same and only congressional seat for all Alaska from 2023-2025. Several factors may have been at play, and since Gross hasn’t said much, the following is my commentary alone. 

For both the special election and primary election, the rural Alaska vote and Alaska Native communities have little in common politically and culturally with the first two vote getters in Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III, nor much in common with Gross as third. While the association Mary Peltola has kept with the Democratic Party through her special election and primary campaigns may irk some independents and Republicans in the Alaska Native community, there is still a lot of commonality in terms of how a potential Congresswoman Mary Peltola would work to represent not only Alaska Native peoples, but all of Alaska – from an Alaska Native identity, perspective and honest work ethic.

How did Gross fare in rural Alaska and the Alaska Native vote during his campaign for US Senate? Not well, and it was always going to be the same for the House campaigns. Rather than split important votes betwixt and between the “celebrity” right or the “business-friendly” right and the Democratic, rural Alaska, and Alaska Native vote,  Gross declined to continue his campaign and instead chose to endorse the Alaska Native women candidates who placed fourth and fifth in the special election in terms of gaining statewide votes, Peltola and Tara Sweeney. But Sweeney was procedurally ruled out by the Alaska Division of Elections and did not move up from fifth to fourth after Gross withdrew, thereby failing to be placed on special election ballot in the new ranked choice balloting system. 

Al Gross, then running for U.S. House in Alaska’s special primary election, waves to supporters on Saturday, June 11, 2022. He later dropped out of the race. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

This maneuver by Gross is a massive shift in the dynamics of both the special election and the primary election for the congressional seat, as former Gross supporters are potentially shifting to supporting Peltola. While arguable that such a move in an historically “red” state would actually shove the dial far enough to elect Peltola, it is still a significant move at least for the rural Alaska and Alaska Native vote. 

So what will happen now during the August special election? What will happen during the August primary election on the same day, and same ballot? Until they’re resolved, the general election in November is almost an afterthought of nearly forgotten consequence. It must be said the excitement of working to fill a congressional seat claimed for decades by a single person is invigorating, and connections are being made by all of the candidates. It also must be said that much of the Alaska Native vote has likely consolidated to one of the named and eligible candidates at least for the special election, and that the primary election will likely have similar numerical results by the same candidates. 

I wish the best of luck to the candidates, and only have good will toward all of them. It certainly is not easy to even consider how an Alaska statewide campaign would be conducted, and the fact that the remaining candidates for the special election have made it this far and gained tens of thousands of votes speaks to their passion. Now they have a chance to show curiosity to learn, and strength to look a voter from any part of the state in the eye and say you are going to unfailingly represent them in Congress. 


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Freddie R. Olin IV
Freddie R. Olin IV

Freddie R. Olin IV is Koyukon Athabascan, born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. With diverse experiences from working on oil rigs on the North Slope and wildland firefighting in both Alaska and the Lower 48 to staffing political offices in the Alaska State Capitol, his favorite is being a family man with his wife and their two children. He is currently employed by Gana-A'Yoo, Limited, an ANCSA village corporation based in Anchorage. His views and commentary do not reflect those of Gana-A'Yoo.