Sessions Looms Over Alabama Race

Former Senator and US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions (R)

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 4, 2019 — We’re getting close to the Nov. 8 candidate filing deadline in Alabama for the March 3 Super Tuesday state primary, and more speculation is brewing that former senator and US attorney general, Jeff Sessions (R), will decide to enter the crowded GOP primary field in order to re-claim his former position.

Reporting has indicated that Sessions, who originally won the Senate seat in the 1996 election, saw his re-election percentage substantially grow in all of his subsequent campaigns from 58.6 percent in 2002 to 63.4 percent in 2008 to 97.3 percent in 2014 when he didn’t even draw a Democratic opponent, is making calls to members of the Alabama House delegation and political leaders around the state to assess his chances. Sessions, of course, relinquished the Senate seat to accept President Trump’s appointment as US attorney general, and then his political trouble began.

To set the current stage, already in the race and running are US Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), Secretary of State John Merrill, former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, state Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Shelby County), and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore who blew the 2017 special election when it became public that he dated under-age girls while in his 30s. Judge Moore won the special election nomination when he defeated appointed incumbent Luther Strange in the GOP run-off, which led to Doug Jones becoming the first Democrat to win an Alabama Senate seat since Howell Heflin was re-elected to his third and final term in 1990.

The 2020 Yellowhammer State race, however, may well be the most important contest in the nation to decide the next Senate majority. If the Republicans regain what is normally a safe seat for them, their chamber total increases to 54, which means the Democrats would have to sweep the top vulnerable GOP incumbent defense races in Arizona (Sen. Martha McSally vs. Mark Kelly), Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner vs. presumably former governor and ex-presidential candidate John Hickenlooper), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis, assuming he wins the GOP nomination, against former state Sen. Cal Cunningham), and win the presidency.

This scenario would bring the 2021 US Senate into a tie but give the Democrats the majority because the new vice president, who also becomes the Senate president, would be a Democrat with the power to break a tie vote.

Most believe the Republicans would be in the political driver’s seat to defeat Sen. Jones should anyone but Moore win the GOP nomination. Alabama will be one of President Trump’s strongest states (62.1 percent in 2016), and the GOP tide should be strong enough to carry the party’s Senate nominee to victory over a Democratic incumbent who has held the party line on most controversial issues and will more than likely support President Trump’s removal from office.

The latest publicly released Republican primary poll comes in mid-October from the Cygnal survey research firm. Their Oct. 10-12 statewide study of 536 likely Republican primary voters finds Coach Tuberville, as he has in most of the early polls, leading the field with 32 percent preference. According to this data, Rep. Byrne, with 18 percent, would advance with Tuberville into the April 14 GOP run-off election because it is probable that none of the candidates will be nominated outright with a majority vote in the March result.

Following Tuberville and Byrne was Judge Moore at 11 percent, and Secretary of State Merrill and state Rep. Mooney trailing in single digits with nine percent and two percent, respectively.

Where would Sessions, should he run, fall into this field? Currently, it is difficult to tell since the negative publicity of Trump saying that appointing Sessions was his biggest mistake, who was clearly forced out of office, has clearly caused deterioration of the former senator’s image within his own state.

The state’s senior senator, Richard Shelby (R), would welcome Sessions back and says he would endorse him. He even went to President Trump asking for the president’s support but said “it would be fair to say that the president is not on board.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believes the party has candidates credible enough to defeat Jones without Sessions entering the race.

We can expect increased speculation about what Sessions will do, as he must make a decision before Friday. If Sessions runs, it will inject even more drama into a race that is expected to draw heavy national attention next year.

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