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Gravel Blames His Defeat in Alaska Democratic Primary on Campaign Contributions to His Opponent

August 28, 1980
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

U.S. Senator Mike Gravel (D. Alaska), who intimated that Jews from outside Alaska were opposing his reelection, apparently last his bid yesterday for a third term. Reports from Juneau, Alaska’s capitol, said Gravel was decisively defeated by Anchorage lawyer Clark Gruening, in a Democratic primary election. With 387 of the state’s 421 precincts reporting, Gruening had 33,698 votes to 26,789 for Gravel.

In Washington, Gravel’s office refused to concede defeat. It told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that 34 precincts in which Gravel usually held majorities have yet to report results.

Gruening, 34, a former state legislator, is a grandson of the late Ernest Gruening, one of Alaska’s first two Senators. Gravel unseated him in 1968 and has been in the Senate for 12 years. The elder Gruening was born in New York of Jewish parents who joined the Ethical Culture Society, he told the JTA, a few months before his death here.

Gravel accused Clark Gruening of receiving campaign contributions from a “special interest group” — Jews. He accused-Gruening of breaking a pledge not to accept money from special interest groups by soliciting contributions from Jews living outside Alaska. “There is no question,” Gravel charged last week, that the funds are coming from “a special interest group” that seeks to “influence the foreign policy of the United States.”


Gruening described Gravel’s charge as “bordering on outright slander.” All of his approximately 1600 contributions, totalling about $230,000, reported by Gruening, have come from individuals. About three out of four of them live in Alaska.

“Not a penny has come from special interest groups,” Gruening said. “Undoubtedly some Jewish individuals contributed. So did Protestants.” Of the $540,000 Gravel has reported spending in the campaign, the political action committee contributions make up more than $230,000, according to reports from Anchorage.

Among contributors to Gruening’s campaign was Bernie Gottstein, an Anchorage businessman and former Democratic national committeeman from Alaska. He was once a fund raiser for Gravel. Gottstein cooled toward Gravel after the Senator backed a package deal in 1978. of warplanes for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel and mode remarks about the “Jewish influence.”

Referring to the package deal, Gravel declared on May 15, 1978 that its approval by the Senate marked “a watershed year of Jewish influence in this country.” Gravel said “win or lose on this issue, the Israeli community and the Jewish community in the United States will lose.”

In the primary campaign, Gottstein mailed to potential contributors a Middle East position paper written by Gruening. He also formed a “Friends of Alaska” committee which sponsored advertisements critical of Gravel, including his handling of the Alaska lands bill. Gruening declared Gravel had a poor attendance record in the Senate and his handling of the lands bill alienated other Senators.

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