By Jim Ellis
Sept. 28, 2017 — Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, twice removed from the court for disobeying federal court orders that violated his conservative principles, scored a robust victory Tuesday night over appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the special Republican Alabama Senate run-off election. Judge Moore now advances to the Dec. 12 special general election against the Democratic nominee, former US Attorney Doug Jones.
Sen. Strange went down to a 55-45 percent crushing defeat, just as pre-election polls predicted.
The Moore victory was expansive in that he took 63 of the state’s 67 counties, losing only in the Birmingham area (Jefferson and Shelby Counties), Huntsville (Madison County), and Sumter County in the western part of the state that hugs the Mississippi border. Moore racked up big wins in Montgomery, Mobile, and Dothan, and scored well over 60 percent in all rural areas.
Turnout was up from the first election. In August, 423,282 people voted in the Republican primary. Tuesday night, more than 480,000 individuals cast ballots in the Moore-Strange race, an increase of 13.5 percent for the run-off. The upsurge is unusual, as run-off participation normally falls below the numbers recorded in the primary.
Democrat Jones became the party nominee back in August by virtue of scoring majority support over the entire field of candidates. Therefore, he was not on the ballot last night. By contrast, only 165,006 individuals voted in the Democratic primary, just 39 percent of the original Republican total.
Now the dynamics between the Moore campaign and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s political operation become interesting. The McConnell group strongly supported Strange and ran highly negative advertising against Moore. For his part, the former chief justice made McConnell the icon of the so-called Washington Swamp. Now, the two will have to come together because Republicans cannot afford to hand this seat to the Democrats. Fortunately for the GOP, Alabama is one of the party’s strongest states, so Judge Moore must be rated a clear favorite to win the special general come December.
Also Tuesday, two-term Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced that he will not seek re-election next year. He becomes the first in-cycle 2018 incumbent to take such action. Sen. Corker said in his retirement news conference that strongly believing in the citizen legislator form of public service is a driving reason for his retirement.
Of note, however, is the primary challenge he was already drawing from Americans for Prosperity’s Andy Ogles for whom outside sources were beginning to actively raise substantial Super PAC funds – maybe as much as $4 million in commitments for the August 2018 intra-party contest.
With the Volunteer State seat now coming open, we can expect a large number of Republican candidates to come forward. Already, a group is reportedly working to organize an operation for three-term former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County), who left Congress before the 2016 election because of a family illness. Also, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) confirms she is considering entering the newly open statewide contest.
For Democrats, the party leaders have their eyes set on former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who in no way has yet committed to run. The former state chief executive would be 75 years old by the time he would begin his first term of service, should he run and win the Senate contest.
Republicans are favored to hold the seat, but, in an open configuration, the competition factor will undoubtedly be higher.