By Jim Ellis
July 26, 2017 — Though nine Republicans are on the ballot for the Aug. 15 Alabama special Senate GOP primary, the ad war would suggest it’s a contest only between appointed Sen. Luther Strange and US Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville).
Brooks is advertising heavily and going hard right, a reasonable strategy for an Alabama Republican primary, and his latest ad (above) features his role in helping the shooting victims during the June 14 morning congressional baseball practice at an Alexandria, Virginia park. After Brooks risked his life to help those who had been wounded, a reporter attempted to bring the gun control debate into focus. Brooks’ answer to his question is the ad’s focal point, as well as identifying the shooter as a “Bernie Sanders supporter.”
Sen. Strange, on the other hand, is exclusively targeting Rep. Brooks with hard-hitting negative ads, attacking him for not supporting President Trump during the 2016 national campaign. (See below)
Strange’s tactics tell us that the few published polls suggesting the senator and Rep. Brooks are fighting for the second run-off position are most likely accurate. It also supports the idea that Strange’s own internal polling numbers are giving him similar reports, or he wouldn’t be focusing on just one opponent.
The early polling, unchecked by any recent release, suggests that former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore leads the Republican race, hovering around the 30 percent mark, while Strange and Brooks are fighting to finish second with respective standings in the low 20s.
Judge Moore has twice won the top judicial post in Alabama, and subsequently was forced to leave office both times. The first instance, drawing national attention in 2003, was his refusal to enforce a federal court order to remove a monument commemorating the Ten Commandments from state government property. After being removed from the bench, Moore returned to again win the post in 2012, but ran into a similar situation when he instructed state agencies to ignore federal court rulings overturning the state ban on same-sex marriage. This eventually led to his suspension from the court and eventual resignation.
Moore has little in the way of campaign financing, but does maintain a strong core of support that may be enough for him to secure the first run-off position. Apparently closer in polling to Brooks than Moore, Sen. Strange’s campaign operatives believe that focusing on topping the congressman in order to secure a run-off berth is a better option than trying to catch Moore. They reason that Moore likely has a ceiling on his support total, a number that would be enough to top a multi-candidate field but would fall short in a one-on-one Sept. 26 run-off election. Therefore, if Strange can qualify for the run-off, his chances of overtaking Moore in an isolated race are much greater.
Potentially complicating matters, the senator is being accused of playing a bit loose with the facts. News reporters are pointing out that many of Strange’s claims about his service as state attorney general are not completely accurate.
One of his video promotions highlights clips from a fictitious newspaper, The Valley Times, that claims Strange eliminated state corruption. The reference is to state House Speaker Mike Hubbard who was convicted of political corruption and sentenced to prison before the investigation that led to Gov. Robert Bentley, the man who appointed Strange to the Senate, resigning from office as part of a plea bargain for campaign finance violations.
While true that the Strange’s staff conducted the investigations and recommended to grand juries that charges be brought against the two men, the reporters point out that Attorney General Strange recused himself from the Hubbard investigation and, for many weeks prior to the Senate appointment, claimed that there was no ongoing investigation of Gov. Bentley.
With three weeks to go, this campaign is only starting to hit high gear. It will be a wild dash to the Aug. 15 finish line, and at least one major player is sure to find himself as the “odd man out.”