Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Race is on for the U.S. Senate

  We are less than three months away from the election for our number two U.S. Senate Seat. The winner of the Republican Primary on March 3, 2020 will be our next U.S. Senator. Winning the GOP primary for any statewide office in a presidential year is tantamount to election in the Heart of Dixie.

  Jeff Sessions is the prohibitive favorite to win back the seat he held for 20 years. He probably regretted from day one leaving a safe U.S. Senate Seat with 20 years of seniority and four years left on his term to take a temporary Attorney General appointment for, at best, a four-year tenure. It amazed me when he did it. Sessions and Trump were at odds from the beginning over Sessions’ recusal from the Russian collusion probe by the Democrats. Trumps’ disenchantment with Sessions was quite obvious and outspoken.

  Sessions was right, legally. However, Trump is very popular in Alabama among Republican voters. Therefore, Trump won the public relations battle over Sessions in Alabama. Trump’s tweets were harsh, bitter, and vitriolic. When Sessions was in this seat three years ago at this time, he was considered the most popular political figure in the state. He was damaged by the two years of constant bombardment and ridicule from the president. However, Sessions has a reservoir of support from having been a very popular Senator for two decades that will allow him to win back his seat.

  Sessions will lead the field in the March 3 primary. However, it is doubtful that he can win without a runoff. His late entry into the race allowed several elite, high profile candidates to begin a race for the senate seat. Most have been running vigorously for over a year. One of the early frontrunners, Secretary of State John Merrill - who probably has the best grassroots organization in the state - has opted out due to Sessions’ entry. At age 54, Merrill can wait. It is now or never for Roy Moore, Tommy Tuberville, and Bradley Byrne. Like Sessions, they are not spring chickens.   

  Current polling has Sessions at 30%. Former Auburn football coach, Tommy Tuberville, at 21%. First District Congressman Bradley Bryne at 14%, and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore at 12%.

  However, a better barometer of the challengers is the amount of money they have raised and have on hand. Sessions has $2.5 million left over from his war chest when he was in this U.S. Senate seat. The candidate who is in the catbird’s seat to move up in the polls is Congressman Bradley Byrne, who is sitting on $2.5 million. Coach Tuberville is showing $1.4 million. However, $1 million is his money that he loaned to the campaign. Moore has $33,000.

  Money is the “mother’s milk” of politics. Money talks and everything else walks. It buys name identification and image building. Jeff Sessions can raise another $1 million or more in Washington. Bryne can add another $300,000 from Washington. Tuberville may have tapped out all of the Auburn football fan donations that he has already done well with. Moore will not raise much money. He really does not need to. He is going to get 12-15% come hell or high water. They are with him no matter if he decides to get out and campaign or stay home and ride his horse Sassy.

  My guess - or you can call it a prognostication - with three months out: Jeff Sessions spends $3 million and uses a message that he is still pro-Trump and was the first sitting U.S. Senator to endorse him and is prepared to diffuse any negative attacks reminding GOP Trump voters of the vitriolic tweets about him sent by the president. He leads the primary with about 39%.

  Judge Roy Moore gets his 13%. I’m afraid he may be running his last race and finishes a respectable fourth. About 3% go to the also-ran candidates. That leaves 45% of the vote for Tommy Tuberville and Bradley Byrne to fight over and hope to get into a runoff with Sessions. 

  This month will be downtime with very little mention of politics due to the holidays. The campaigns will kick into high gear by mid-January with the final week being the key to victory. Again, who has the money to spend in the final 10 days is critical.

  The bottom line is whichever Republican – Jeff Sessions, Tommy Tuberville, or Bradley Byrne – wins the GOP nomination, any one of them beat the Democrat Doug Jones. Alabama is a conservative Republican state.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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