Bear-killing Jewish doctor takes on Santa Claus, Sarah Palin in Alaska House race

Onetime gold prospector is 1 of 50 candidates in special election, alongside Trump-backed former governor and Bernie Sanders-loving Saint Nicholas

Independent candidate Al Gross (Gross for Senate Campaign via AP)
Independent candidate Al Gross (Gross for Senate Campaign via AP)

JTA — It’s Jew vs. Santa Claus — and 48 others — in Alaska’s carnivalesque special election for the US House of Representatives.

Al Gross, a physician who was raised in the Last Frontier’s close-knit Jewish community, is one of 50 candidates who will be vying for the state’s lone House seat in a special election to replace Don Young, the longest-serving Republican in House history, who died last month while in office.

Gross is an independent candidate who raised more than $9 million in his unsuccessful 2020 Senate campaign, in which he was endorsed by national Democrats (and attacked with ads some deemed antisemitic).

But to win the seat, he’ll have to go through St. Nicholas himself: a city councilman in the city of North Pole (outside Fairbanks) who changed his name legally to Santa Claus from Thomas O’Connor in 2005.

Claus, who did not declare a party affiliation, is a self-described “independent, progressive democratic socialist” who loves Jewish Senator Bernie Sanders, and he told the Anchorage Daily News that, if elected, he might wear his Santa suit to Washington. He says he does not accept campaign contributions.

Claus might be the only candidate in the race with more name recognition than surprise entrant Sarah Palin, the Donald Trump-endorsed former governor, 2008 vice-presidential candidate and onetime reality TV star. Palin’s candidacy, her first since resigning as the state’s governor in 2009, has made Alaska’s first open House election in nearly 50 years an even wackier affair.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, left, appears with then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally at the Iowa State University on Jan. 19, 2016, in Ames, Iowa (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

All in all, there are 16 Republicans, six Democrats, 21 Independents and a host of other party affiliations represented in a state with a famously eclectic political identity, making the race currently anyone’s game. There are even some traditional politicians in the mix.

Candidates will have to prevail in a June 11 ranked-choice primary, which Alaskans will be able to vote in by mail for the first time in the state’s history, from which the top four vote-getters will advance to an August 16 general election for the remainder of Young’s term. An election for the seat’s next full term will take place less than three months later.

Gross has his own share of wacky adventures to keep voters interested: He is a onetime gold prospector who has also killed a grizzly bear in self-defense.

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