Does Al Gross Actually Have A Chance In The Alaska Senate Race?

Courtesy Al Gross campaign.
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November 9, 2020 4:03 p.m.

Squinting into the sun and clad in a puffy orange Patagonia jacket, Dr. Al Gross made his case.

“We woke up this morning and saw that there is still well over 40 percent of the votes still to be counted here in Alaska,” he said in a video posted Wednesday. “We knew from the beginning that this race was going to be very close, so we know that those 40 percent are very strong supporters of our race. Every vote will be counted and at the end of the day we still believe we are going to win.” 

Gross, an independent who was endorsed by the DNC, is trying to unseat incumbent Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) in one of the most slow-moving races of the cycle.

Not a whole lot has changed since he tweeted that video. Election workers won’t start counting the remaining early and mail-in ballots until Tuesday. According to data from the state division of elections, there are currently 157,209 votes to be counted, though that total includes full and partial rejects which will be sorted out. 

That number is further in flux because any absentee ballot postmarked by Election Day and received by Thursday the 13th will be counted. The deadline for receiving absentee ballots from overseas will push that timeline even later, according to Gail Fenumiai, the state’s elections director.

“We will start counting tomorrow and continue through November 18 which is the last day, by state law, we can receive ballots which were postmarked outside the U.S.,” she told TPM.

That means it could be another week until Alaska’s races can be called with certainty.

But from this vantage point, with ballots still incoming, Gross’ calculus is tricky. He currently trails Sullivan by 57,616 votes, according to the Associated Press’ tally. About 193,000 Election Day votes and some early votes have already been counted. 

To make up his deficit, Gross will have to win the outstanding early and absentee votes, plus ballots still coming in, by extremely large margins — Nat Herz, an Alaska Public Radio reporter, estimated that Gross will have to win the remaining vote by around 80 percent. That’s a very steep climb in a solid red state, even if the ballots do tilt Democratic, a dynamic seen elsewhere this election cycle.

“It is possible but doubtful in my view,” Forrest Nabors, chair of the political science department at the University of Alaska Anchorage, told TPM. “My guess is that the vote might tilt a little more towards Al Gross, but not enough to wipe out Sullivan’s substantial lead, with around 60 percent counted now.”

The Sullivan camp, for its part, is projecting confidence. 

“You know, every ballot is going to be counted, and we’re confident, very confident,” Sullivan said Tuesday night. “If you look at the numbers, even if you look at the numbers not only tonight, but the number of absentees, that we’re going to have not just a victory — a resounding victory.”

The state’s generous deadlines for accepting ballots and extensive security processes are to blame for the drawn-out suspense, though Fenumiai has unapologetically stated that being right is more important than being fast.

The race has garnered more attention as Democrats were stunned Tuesday by Senate losses in North Carolina and Maine, ultimately flipping only two of their four top targets (Colorado and Arizona). With Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-AL) loss, that leaves Democrats with a 48-seat minority headed into the next term.

Accordingly, heads have swiveled to the Georgia runoff elections in January. If Democrats could pick up both, they’d have 50 seats, plus Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote. 

While a win in Alaska would take some of the pressure off of those races, Georgia seems like the most likely path to Democrats’ salvation at present, barring an unexpectedly forceful blue wave (or glacier) in the outstanding Alaska vote.

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