By Alex Rogers and Ethan Cohen, CNN
Independent orthopedic surgeon Al Gross dropped out of the Alaska House race on Monday and threw his support behind two Native women candidates: Republican Tara Sweeney and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola.
In a statement, Gross said that he and his wife Monica decided “it is just too hard to run as a nonpartisan candidate in this race.” The Gross campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“It is with great hope for Alaska’s future that I have decided to end my campaign to become our state’s next Congressman,” Gross wrote. “There are two outstanding Alaska Native women in this race who would both serve our state well, and I encourage my supporters to stay engaged and consider giving their first-place vote to whichever of them best matches their own values. Thank you for your support.”
After the special primary election earlier this month, CNN projected that Gross and three other candidates — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Republican businessman Nick Begich III and Peltola — would compete in the August 16 special general election.
But while Alaska law has a procedure to replace a withdrawn candidate with the fifth place finisher, in this case likely to be Sweeney, Gross’ announcement came too late for that law to apply, according to Alaska’s Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai.
Fenumiai wrote in a letter to Begich’s campaign Tuesday that “any party that disagrees with these decisions should file suit immediately.” She wrote that elections officials need a final answer from the courts by next Tuesday in order to print ballots in time to hold the special general election as scheduled.
The winner of the special election will only serve in Congress until January. On August 16, Alaskans will also vote in the regular primary election, and the top four candidates will face each other on November 8. The winner of that House race will earn a full, two-year term.
In March, Alaska GOP Rep. Don Young died, creating the contest for the open, at-large seat.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
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