By Jim EllisJune 24, 2019 — As expected and despite urgings from President Trump not to do so, former Alabama state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore announced his Senate 2020 candidacy late last week.
We will remember Judge Moore’s ill-fated 2017 special Senate election effort that resulted in Democrat Doug Jones becoming the first member of his party to win an Alabama Senate seat since Howell Heflin was last re-elected in 1990.
Even before the announcement, Moore and Sen. Richard Shelby (R) were again trading barbs. Judge Moore argued that Shelby’s involvement, which culminated in the senior senator saying he was placing “country before party,” led to Jones’ victory, while Shelby retorted that he still thinks “Alabama can do better,” in a reference about electing Judge Moore.
Arguably, Alabama is the most important Senate race on the 2020 election board. If the Republicans take back the seat, which is a must if they want to cement their hold on the majority, the Senate party division would increase to 54 Republicans. Looking at the remaining seats in play for the current election cycle it becomes increasingly difficult for the Democrats to reach majority status if they lose this race.
In 2017, Judge Moore, after defeating appointed incumbent Luther Strange 55-45 percent in a run-off election after placing first with 39 percent in the original special primary, was found to have attempted to date, or did date, between two and nine underage girls when he was a deputy district attorney in Etowah County some 40 years ago. The controversy likely cost Moore the election, a battle that he lost to Jones 50.0 to 48.3 percent.
The 2020 regular primary appears to feature a more difficult field of opponents for Moore than did the special election. Appointed Sen. Strange waded into his own batch of quicksand when allegations surfaced that he allegedly cut a deal with Gov. Robert Bentley (R) when the former man was Alabama’s attorney general and the state chief executive was being scrutinized for spending and utilizing state resources for his personal use.
Strange publicly indicated there was no ongoing investigation of Bentley, and he was then appointed to the federal post after Sen. Jeff Sessions resigned to become US attorney general. Whether or not an actual deal between Strange and Bentley existed never fully came to light, but the preponderance of circumstantial evidence of such clearly created the common impression.
Already in the 2020 Senate Republican primary are US Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, state Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Shelby County) who was Rep. Mo Brooks’ (R-Huntsville) campaign manager in his Senate special election bid, and businessman Stanley Adair. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill indicates that he will soon enter the race.
The only recent published poll comes from the Tuberville campaign. Moore Information conducted the survey (June 10-11; 650 likely Alabama Republican primary voters) and it is the only study that included Tuberville, Byrne, Moore, Merrill, and Mooney as proposed candidates. The results found, rather surprisingly, that Tuberville opens with a small 23-18 percent lead over Judge Moore. Rep. Byrne was close behind with 16 percent, while Merrill and Mooney followed with seven and two percent, respectively.
The number and quality of candidates suggests that this nomination campaign will proceed into a run-off after the March 3 GOP primary. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of the vote, and it appears obvious at this point that none will, the top two contenders will advance into an April 14 secondary election.
While Moore has a base among the most conservative of voters, which is still possibly large enough to propel him into the run-off, winning an isolated contest with only one credible opponent seems to be a long shot for the former state Supreme Court chief judge at this time.
While the Democrats, and specifically Sen. Jones, have yearned for Moore to enter the race – Jones even publicly called on him run again so that the two of them could have an “honest discussion of issues in this campaign” – the chances of him again becoming the Republican nominee appears to be a pipe dream. But his eventual prospects have not dissuaded Judge Moore from once more becoming a Senate candidate.