Senate challenger Al Gross told Democratic donors behind closed doors that his run as an "independent Alaskan" is a front.
"I will caucus with the Democrats. I've been an independent since I was 18, but if you look at my platform, you'll see that most of my values are to the left," Gross said Wednesday. "I've met with leadership in the Senate and they are very understanding that my best pathway to win is to remain as an independent."
The concession—which Gross made while appealing to national donors during a Democratic National Committee virtual happy hour—is at odds with his campaign's positioning. In a July ad, Gross said he was "running for U.S. Senate as an independent Alaskan," adding that "out here, if you can't think for yourself, you won't survive."
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Gross's admission may harm his ability to distance himself from national Democrats in historically red Alaska, which President Donald Trump won by nearly 15 points in 2016. According to University of Alaska Fairbanks political scientist Jerry McBeath, 58 percent of the state's electorate identify as "nonpartisan and undeclared," meaning that "if you're aiming for the mass of Alaska voters, you would talk about yourself as an independent candidate."
"There are all these [positions] that the national Democratic Party has that are unpopular in Alaska, such as the Second Amendment—gun control and gun rights and the like—and of course the abortion issue," McBeath told the Washington Free Beacon. "It's an uphill battle for Gross in this election."
Gross will face off against incumbent senator Dan Sullivan (R.) in November. The Cook Political Report rates the race "likely Republican." Senate editor Jessica Taylor told the Free Beacon that while Alaska has a "history of electing independent-minded senators," Gross could struggle to shake his ties to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.).
"Even though he's running as an independent, he does have the backing of national Democrats, and that's something that Sullivan and Republicans will really hammer home," Taylor said.
Gross has received a number of endorsements from national Democrats and liberal groups, including failed presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, abortion giant Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and the Schumer-led Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Despite the DSCC's backing—the group funneled nearly $50,000 to the Gross campaign in June—Gross is registered with the Federal Election Commission as an independent.
Gross has also benefited heavily from big-spending outside groups. The Lincoln Project, a super PAC founded by failed Republican strategists whose "singular mission" is to "defeat Donald Trump," has spent more than $1.3 million on ads backing Gross.
Gross ran in the state's Democratic primary as a "nonpartisan" candidate, receiving 74 percent of the vote. Sullivan, meanwhile, did not face a primary challenge. The Alaska Republican holds a strong financial advantage, having raised nearly $7.9 million to Gross's $5.2 million as of July 29. Sullivan holds $5.3 million on hand, compared with Gross's $2.9 million.
The Gross campaign did not respond to a request for comment.