Alabama Battle Lines Drawn

By Jim Ellis

July 14, 2017 — Now, just about a month away from the Alabama US Senate special primary election, we are seeing the first political patterns that begin to define the Republican primary race.

To review, the seat became vacant when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) was appointed US attorney general. In a controversial move, embattled Gov. Robert Bentley (R) tabbed state Attorney General Luther Strange (R) to replace Sessions. The appointment was controversial from the start because Bentley was reportedly under investigation by Strange’s office.

Gov. Bentley, who was facing impeachment from his own Republican base in the state legislature, saw the process grind to a halt when Strange asked the legislative leadership to allow him to complete his investigation to determine if the governor actually misused state funds when engaged in an extra-marital affair. Strange later said that he never confirmed such an investigation was actually underway, but he publicly asked the legislative leaders to halt, and that helped him earn him the appointment. Bentley was then in position to appoint the new attorney general who would decide whether to continue the stealth investigation into his own potential wrongdoing.

As we know, the Bentley plan came unraveled. The now former governor was subsequently charged with several crimes, of which he accepted a plea bargain arrangement that kept him out of jail but forced him to resign the office.

When Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) ascended to the governorship upon Bentley’s resignation, she decided to change the special Senate election schedule. Originally, Bentley made the vote to fill the remainder of Sessions’ term, which runs through 2020, concurrent with the 2018 election cycle. Responding largely to a threatened bipartisan lawsuit challenging the schedule, and perhaps for internal political reasons, the new governor moved the partisan primary to Aug. 15. A run-off, if necessary, is now on for Sept. 26, with the special general election now posted for Dec. 12.

According to a leaked internal poll conducted for Senate candidate Mo Brooks, the Huntsville area GOP congressman, the special Republican nomination Brooks received a popularity boost for his heroic actions to help the wounded in conjunction with the insane shooting that badly injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. The tragedy occurred as the Republican team practiced for the annual congressional baseball game in a park near the nation’s capital. But Rep. Brooks has also drawn the ire of the Senate Republican Leadership Fund, a Super PAC loosely associated with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

A just-released SRLF ad (see above) goes after Brooks for being a ‘career congressman’ even though he’s completed only three terms, and for not supporting President Trump during the campaign … something that Sen. McConnell only tacitly did, himself. The ad ends with the announcer saying Brooks “sides with them” as pictures of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and the congressman appear on the screen, “instead of Alabama conservatives.”

The ad is unfair and an inaccurate depiction of Rep. Brooks’ strong conservative voting record and stance since he has been in the House, and a response will soon be forthcoming.

At this time, it appears likely the GOP primary will end in a run-off and, for Sen. Strange, advancing into the secondary election is apparently no longer a given, which is obviously a dangerous position for the new incumbent. We can expect a very active and interesting campaign in the month ahead.

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