We are less than three months away from the de facto election for our second U.S. Senate seat. The winner of the Republican primary on March 3, 2020, will be our next senator. Winning the GOP primary for any statewide office in a presidential voting 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 seat with 20 years of seniority and four years left on his term to take an appointment as U.S. attorney general for, at best four years.
It amazed me that he did so. Sessions and President Donald Trump were at odds from the beginning over Sessions’ recusal from the Russian collusion probe. Trump’s disenchantment with Sessions was obvious and outspoken.
Sessions was legally right; however, Trump is very popular in Alabama among Republican voters. He won the public relations battle here over Sessions. Trump’s tweets were harsh, bitter and vitriolic. But 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 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 their bids for the 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, opted out due to Sessions’ entry. At 54, Merrill can wait. But it is now or never for Roy Moore, Tommy Tuberville and Bradley Byrne, who, like Sessions, are not spring chickens.
Current polling has Sessions at 30%. Tuberville, a former Auburn football coach, is at 21%. Byrne, who represents the 1st Congressional District, is at 14%, and Moore, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, is 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 held this Senate seat. The candidate who is in the catbird’s seat to move up in the polls is Byrne, who is sitting on $2.5 million. Tuberville is showing $1.4 million; however, $1 million is money he loaned to his 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. Sessions can raise another $1 million or more in Washington. Byrne can add another $300,000 from Washington. Tuberville may have tapped out all of the Auburn football fan donors who he has already done well with.
Moore will not raise much money. He really does not need to. He is going to get 12% to 15% come hell or high water. His supporters 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? Sessions spends $3 million and uses a message that he is still pro-Trump and was the first sitting senator to endorse him. Sessions also 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%.
Moore gets his 13%. I’m afraid the former chief justice may be running his last race and will finish a respectable fourth. About 3% goes 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.
The next month will be down time 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 — Sessions, Tuberville, or Byrne — wins the GOP nomination will beat the Democratic incumbent, Doug Jones. It does not matter how much left-wing money Jones raises from California; that is all for naught. Alabama is a conservative Republican state. Jones really should run for the Senate from California.