It was no surprise when Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill threw his hat in the ring for the U.S. Senate race. The arc of his life is focused on public service. As a Boy Scout, he climbed the ranks to earn his Eagle Scout badge, and in college at the University of Alabama, he interned in the U.S. Congress and served as president of the Student Government Association. He served a term in the Alabama House of Representatives, accumulating accolades, and then ran for the office of Alabama secretary of state, where he maintains a high profile and successful track record.
His next step is logical. With Democrat Doug Jones as incumbent U.S. Senator, it’s thought to be a foregone conclusion that the Republican nominee in the 2020 race will be the next senator. Merrill’s chances are as good as anyone’s, and arguably better than most.
This week, Merrill suspended his campaign and said he would continue to serve as secretary of state. The pivotal event was Jeff Sessions’ decision to enter the crowded Republican field. Merrill deferred, saying too many candidates in the GOP primary would benefit Jones.
That’s unlikely, although if a Democrat can slip into a seat that’s been held comfortably by Republicans for decades — as Jones did by defeating Roy Moore in a special election following Sessions’ resignation to serve as U.S. attorney general — anything is possible.
However, Merrill’s acquiescence makes sense. Many Alabamians were happy with Sessions in the Senate and, despite broad support for President Donald Trump, felt Sessions’ treatment by the president was unfair. It’s likely he’ll return to the Senate on a wave of support. In fact, he’s counting on it.
At 56, Merrill has plenty of sand in the hourglass of his political career, and there will be more, perhaps better, opportunities ahead that won’t likely pit him against one of his political heroes.
It’s a wise strategist who chooses his battles.