In memoriam: From Gross to grotesque, a campaign of profound dishonesty - Must Read Alaska
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In memoriam: From Gross to grotesque, a campaign of profound dishonesty

By SUZANNE DOWNING

As one politico put it, Alan Gross was “born in the wake of an avalanche and his political career ended in the wake of a landslide.”

From the start, it was obvious the Alan Gross campaign was going to go negative against Sen. Dan Sullivan, who is completing his first term as Alaska’s U.S. senator.

But just how negative he would go was difficult to gauge last year, when Gross began his unlikely quest for the Senate.

No one could guess it could get so ugly or so personal. Gross and his third party helpers such as the Lincoln Project spent $36 million — more money than any candidate in Alaska Senate race history. Sullivan and third party helper groups had just $16 million to fight off the attacks. In the end, Gross in 2020 will end up with just 41 percent of the vote.

Gross’ initial campaign in 2019 was to introduce himself to Alaskans. He was an unknown from Petersburg and he needed to define himself, to show “Al” Gross as an upbeat real Alaskan on a real fishing boat. He glossed over his flaws and made fantastical claims about his larger-than-life Alaskan adventures. This was a candidate made up by marketers.

By the summer of 2020, Gross and his handlers had painted Gross as the “bear doctor,” (a doctor who kills bears), with a catchy jingle, and $36 million and change to batter Sullivan. By now, he and his Outside funders were on a rampage to assassinate the character of his opponent.

During the final days of the campaign in October of 2020, the attacks got so ugly that the New Jersey communication director, who had been brought in to be Gross’ spokesperson, was sidelined. She wasn’t exactly fired, because Gross had unionized his campaign and couldn’t exactly fire her, but Julia Savel was essentially let go — no more spokesperson role for her.

Alaskans, even his supporters, were by then disgusted and alarmed at how vicious and dirty the attacks from Comms Director Savel had become, and word was getting back that she was hurting Gross’ brand of being a real Alaskan.

The media, which had been sympathetic to Gross, lost respect for her because she would not tell them the truth, and in the last weeks of the campaign they didn’t want to talk to her anymore.

After the Gross campaign called Sullivan anti-Semitic and racist, even the liberal media had had enough.

But Savel had done her dirty work by then, and it was all over but the shouting. She had shopped a story idea around to all the media that Sullivan had voted time and again for policies that benefited his father’s Ohio company, a company for which his brother is the CEO.

Finally, after every other outlet had turned it down, Salon.com bit and wrote the 2+2=3 story; it was a piece of spun-up opposition research, and it was not interesting to Alaska voters. They were tired of being carpet-bombed by the Gross campaign.

Gross, in the final weeks, attacked Sullivan as “corrupt,” and said repeatedly that he was born a billionaire.

That is also not true. Not even close. Sullivan was born in a modest 2,000-square-foot house with a five siblings crowding the bedrooms. His father built a company from scratch, employed hundreds of Americans, and was generous with his fortune — so well that he earned the highest award given by the Jewish community of Cleveland, Ohio for his community service. Tom Sullivan gave away much of what he had earned to philanthropic causes in his hometown.

Tom Sullivan and his late wife, Sandy, started modestly in life but became well-known philanthropists, and were the lead donors to the nonprofit Menorah Park Center in Cleveland, which was designed to serve the Jewish senior community.

Sullivan’s family also has a long record of military service, one that is continued by Sen. Sullivan to this day as a Marine Corps reservist, the only active Marine Corps member of the Senate. He’s been in the Marine Corps / Reserve since 1993 and served in Afghanistan dismantling terrorist networks.

Gross, overreaching for nearly the last time, called Sullivan an anti-Semite because of an ad Sullivan’s side ran concerning the massive amounts of Outside dollars Gross had, many millions coming from NY Sen. Chuck Schumer.

While Gross was calling Sullivan an anti-Semite, a coward, and corrupt son of a billionaire, Sullivan’s father was gravely ill and is, at this writing, not expected to live much longer.

Some Alaskans wondered why, when Gross attacked Sullivan as corrupt, and attacked Sullivan’s family as he did, the favor was not returned.

It could have been, but Sullivan and others took the high road.

Gross’ father, Avrum Gross, whom Al referred to often during the campaign to shore up his “Alaska-born credentials,” was more than just an attorney general for Alaska. He was a hippie lawyer, a well-known drug abuser and alcoholic in Juneau, and he had proclivities that are just not ripe for telling, since one should not speak ill of the dead.

Gross, who ran on a health care platform, is known by only a few around him to be a heavy smoker. His campaign ads said, “it’s time to send a doctor to the Senate.” The smoking doctor.

While Gross pounded on Sullivan’s upbringing and father’s business interests, Sullivan never brought up any of Gross’ family history.

At this writing, Gross has not yet conceded the race, although the math just doesn’t work for him any longer. With 66,000 votes left to be counted, Gross would have to get 95 percent of them to win. He went quiet on Twitter two days ago, after wishing everyone a happy Veterans Day. The day before that, he wrote that he still could win.

He did make his mark, even if he didn’t win. The ugliness and dishonesty Gross engaged in during his campaign for Senate set the bar lower than it’s ever been in Alaska politics.

Alaskans, however, saw through it. For all his tens of millions, Gross performed worse than Alyse Galvin in her run against Don Young, and even worse than Joe Biden did with Alaskans.

Sullivan got more votes than any other statewide candidate this year by sticking as much as possible to the high road. As they say, maybe the good guys don’t always finish last.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • He had to put down his cigarette and load in a dip for every photo op. Every picture of him has a bulging lip. Was that supposed to bolster his Alaska cred too? Does he own a gold nugget watch and have a bad liver?
    .
    His entire faux schtick was laughable from the start. I’m a little more surprised by the number of people that actually voted for this fraud than the shameful things his campaign said about Sen. Sullivan. That is expected of a fraud. They have absolutely nothing to stand on and their only course is to tear down the other guy.
    .
    Sen. Sullivan stood by his record and accomplishments for Alaska. He had no need to call Al Gross an anti-[fill in the blank]. I find it interesting that Al Gross and his team would rather perpetuate a stereotype and literally concoct an anti-semite scheme, rather than present his plan for the future. Pretty sad and indicative of a failing campaign.

  • Thank you for this article. I did not know this history of either candidates. Dan Sullivan is a rarity in politics, a good and decent man. It is amazing to me how many people actually voted for Gross. His ads were just downright obnoxious. And on and on about Sullivan voting 97% of the time with his party. All that shows is Dan Sullivan is consistent. Seems like a good and strong trait to have. You can count on Dan Sullivan.

  • Let’s hear it for the good guys! Thank you Sen!

  • Al Gross was born on third base thinking he hit a triple.

  • Gross and his outside financial backers calculated that Sullivan would likely be easy to beat being a 1st term senator, which is usually a pretty good bet generally. But instead of spending all that money on attacking Sullivan with lies, they should have bought Gross a new personality and dialed back the leftism just a bit.

    And to Gross, I bid you in the immortal words of Curly Bill, “Well………bye.”

  • A is for antler B is for bear C is for cringe
    There were some bad campaign ads but A.G. Hand puppet ad was criminal

  • What a great writer you are thanks so much

  • I got so sick of his campaign ads, they literally made me sick. I’ve met Dan Sullivan in person and he is a rock solid person.

  • Does anyone remember his dad was Avram Gross, the hippy lawyer that was attorney general under Hammond!
    Please do a fact check!

  • This Democrat fairy dance cost all Alaskans lots of time and money. When Democrat legislators decry budget cuts on the floors of the Alaska House and Senate, as they will beginning early next year I hope other legislators answer them with reminders of this Gross waste of resources. It’s somehow not as gross but still similar with Galvin. Alaska Democrats need to be willing to say they’ll pass when they cannot come up with a real candidate because obviously huge amounts of outside money will come in and create an expensive debacle for Alaskans at the drop of a nut.

  • I bet that Tweet wasn’t from him per se, but it was written by a racist democrat campaign staffer putting Party politics before Country. It sounds too much like a Generation X and Millenial rather than an old baby boomer Gross generation, and I know my generation. I bet his campaign staff were the same people type, or the same individuals, who worked on the Begich 2008 campaign. But. this time Alaskan’s didn’t fall for the lie strategy a second time around ousting a sitting Republican U.S. Senator. Gross staffers campaign was awfully similar like Deja Vu experience Alaska seen this road once. Everything written for his campaign had someone else words all over it while Gross looked like a hand held puppet while someone was feeding its mouth, His debate performances made the puppetry more obvious reading from his democrat staffer’s script.

  • Doc Gross has neither a conscience nor a soul. Many, many former patients succumbed to opiod addiction, thanks to Gross. He best leave Alaska for good.

  • I, for one, was deeply offended by all of Al Gross’ cis-specied bear-killing bragging. And did anyone even try to find out what gender the poor bear identified as? I mean, Black Bear Lives Matter!

    No right-thinking Alaskan could have tolerated such a despicable specie-ist as our senator!

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