Jeff Sessions was one of the first elected officials to throw his support behind Donald Trump. Sessions lent the future President his staff and policy making team which led to a number of issues where Trump towed the Sessions line throughout the campaign. After the election in November, it became apparent that Sessions would play a prominent role in a Trump administration, the real question was to which spot Sessions would be nominated and confirmed. After the confirmation of Sessions to the post of Attorney General, it fell to the Governor of Alabama to appoint a successor.
The only problem with that was Governor Robert Bentley was facing a sex scandal, a possible investigation, and an eventual resignation. Attorney General Luther Strange who would nominally be in charge of the investigation of Bentley failed to announce whether or not he was investigating the Governor. Bentley appointed Strange as the Senator. After Strange’s appointment to the Senate, it came out of the Attorney General’s office that there was an active investigation into Bentley. Bentley did eventually resign. To many people, there was an appearance of impropriety to the whole affair.
Kay Ivey, the former Lieutenant Governor, backtracked on Bentley’s decision to push out the special election to replace Sessions to the 2018 midterm elections. Since there is an appearance of impropriety to Strange’s appointment to the Senate, there was a few candidates who decided to challenge him in a special election. Two of the more notable challengers are Rep. Mo Brooks and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore.
It seems unlikely to me that Strange would be defeated in a primary challenge but we should still provide information as best we can on this election.
Strange was elected in 2010 defeating the incumbent Troy King for Attorney General. Strange was endorsed by both Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby. That may have had to with what seemed like improprieties between King and gambling in Alabama. King had apparently been on the wrong side of the issue of electronic bingo.
He was elected as Attorney General in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Following the election of Donald Trump, it was pretty obvious that Jeff Sessions would play a prominent role in a Trump administration. Sessions was, of course, nominated to be Attorney General. The task of finding a new Senator for the state of Alabama went to the Governor, Robert Bentley. Bentley was facing his own problems. During the Robert Bentley scandal, Strange would not confirm nor deny that he was investigating Bentley. This may have been because Strange was on the shortlist to be appointed as Senator and did not want to appear as if he was acting inappropriately. After Strange’s appointment to the Senate, it came out that the Attorney General’s office was, in fact investigating Bentley.
Kay Ivey, who ascended to the gubernatorial mansion after the resignation of Bentley, scheduled a special election for 2017 after initially Bentley agreed to have the election coincide with the 2018 statewide election. Mitch McConnell has made it fairly clear that he would like Strange to win, to avoid the trouble of having sitting Senators primaries, I assume. But Strange will have to win in 2017. His first ad was more than a little misleading including a fake newspaper and fake headlines to help reintroduce himself to Alabama voters.
Tenure as Attorney General
Strange was the coordinating counsel for Louisiana and Alabama over the Deepwater Horizon spill. He also signed onto a lawsuit suing the Obama administration over the ordinance to allow transgender students to use the bathroom or locker rooms that match their gender identity. Strange also argued in the Supreme Court in Lane v. Franks in which he argued that the government employee who was a whistleblower had protections under the First Amendment.
Moore is probably best known for the Ten Commandments controversy. He made plans to build a large monument to the Ten Commandments at the Alabama Supreme Court building. He was almost immediately sued for the monument. After his removal of the monument, he was suspended from the bench. He ran for governor in 2006 and 2010. He flirted with a 2012 Presidential run before deciding to run, again, for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He won election but was suspended from office for ethical violations. He resigned from his seat in order to run for the Senate seat.
Moore was targeted, in part, because he told state employees to refuse to marry same-sex couples. He is hoping to run an outsider campaign. This should be easy for him as he is typically seen as outside of the traditional Republican orthodoxy. For instance, he has defended his actions that led to his suspension invoking God’s will, saying “what I did, I did for the people of Alabama. I stood up for the Constitution. I stood up for God. The great majority of the people of this state believe in God.”
He announced his campaign with the idea that he is on board with Donald Trump to make America great, again, but that to do so we need to make America “good, again.” He has accused Strange and the Super PACs in Washington of trying to buy the Senate race.
Strange and Moore are the two most likely candidates to advance in the runoff. If there was another candidate that seemed likely to be able to advance, my bet would be on Mo Brooks. Brooks is a Congressman since 2011 in the Huntsville, AL area. He is a favorite of the TEA Party and has been fairly gaffe-ridden regarding a number of issues. Govtrack has him on the far right of their ideology score. In theory, this would help him in a special election with low turnout, if he has a motivated base. But unfortunately for him, Moore seems to be the one taking support away.
Typically in special elections like this, I tend to believe that the religious right candidate will outperform. The reasoning is that this candidate will have a high floor because he has a motivated and committed base. But, again, the problem is that Moore is the one who is able to pick up most of this support. His anti-establishment credentials also include a strong following within the religious right. This bumps up Moore’s floor, in my opinion.
We will revisit this post once there are some debates or other noteworthy events that happen in Alabama.