Strange Likely to Face Crowded Primary

Republicans say a new special-election date leaves Sen. Luther Strange of Alabama far more vulnerable.

Sen. Luther Strange
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Kimberly Railey
Add to Briefcase
Kimberly Railey
April 19, 2017, 3:34 p.m.

With less than 10 weeks of Cap­it­ol Hill ex­per­i­ence un­der his belt, Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Luth­er Strange of Alabama sud­denly faces a spe­cial-elec­tion primary in just four months and with far more ser­i­ous vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.

Gov. Kay Ivey on Tues­day moved up the spe­cial elec­tion for the seat from 2018 to 2017. The de­cision came a week after former Gov. Robert Bent­ley resigned amid a scan­dal in­volving an al­leged af­fair, and the messy exit is re­new­ing con­cerns about Strange’s Sen­ate ap­point­ment. Strange, the former at­tor­ney gen­er­al, was in­vest­ig­at­ing Bent­ley be­fore Bent­ley chose him to re­place former Sen. Jeff Ses­sions.

Alabama Re­pub­lic­ans pre­dicted that the earli­er elec­tion timeline would res­ult in a crowded, free-for-all primary that would leave Strange sig­ni­fic­antly more at risk.

“The mo­mentum of the Bent­ley fal­lout is head­ing straight for him,” Alabama Re­pub­lic­an strategist Jonath­an Gray said. “There are people out there that want to see a tar­get.”

One Re­pub­lic­an, state Rep. Ed Henry, has already de­clared a cam­paign, as a trio of state sen­at­ors—Del Marsh, Trip Pittman, and Slade Black­well —pub­licly mull bids. Sus­pen­ded Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said Wed­nes­day he will re­veal his plans next week.

Alabama Re­pub­lic­ans floated a hand­ful of oth­er can­did­ates who could jump in, in­clud­ing wealthy busi­ness­man Jimmy Rane and former state Rep. Perry Hoop­er Jr. State le­gis­lat­ors and con­gres­sion­al in­cum­bents would not have to give up their seats to run, a dy­nam­ic that likely grows the field.

“Every­one and their broth­er who’s ever wanted to be in the United States Sen­ate would jump in,” former Alabama GOP Chair­man Bill Armistead said a day be­fore the elec­tion was changed. “Most people think there’s a cloud over that ap­point­ment.”

Bent­ley crit­ics have charged that the gov­ernor in­stalled Strange in the Sen­ate to side­line him from pur­su­ing an in­vest­ig­a­tion that could have led to im­peach­ment. Last week, Bent­ley stepped down from his post after more than a year of bat­tling al­leg­a­tions that he used pub­lic re­sources to pur­sue an af­fair with a former top aide. Bent­ley pleaded guilty to two mis­de­mean­or charges re­lated to cam­paign fin­ance vi­ol­a­tions.

Reached for com­ment Tues­day, the Strange cam­paign re­ferred Na­tion­al Journ­al to com­ments the sen­at­or made to Alabama re­port­ers about the cri­ti­cism re­flect­ing “polit­ics at its worst.” As Alabama at­tor­ney gen­er­al, Strange pro­sec­uted former state House Speak­er Mike Hub­bard, whose al­lies, Alabama Re­pub­lic­ans privately say, are eager to field a Strange chal­lenger.

“The things that are be­ing re­por­ted are com­ing from a dis­gruntled group of people who are mad at our of­fice for do­ing our job,” Strange told re­port­ers last week.

Ivey’s de­cision Tues­day set the primary for Aug. 15 and the run­off, which oc­curs if no can­did­ate re­ceives a ma­jor­ity of the vote, for Sept. 26. The gen­er­al elec­tion is sched­uled for Dec. 12.

Giv­en that Strange was ap­poin­ted, rather than elec­ted, Alabama Re­pub­lic­ans said he was likely to face a primary even if the elec­tion took place in 2018. But with Strange los­ing a year’s worth of an in­cum­bency ad­vant­age—and with the Bent­ley-scan­dal fal­lout—they said the sen­at­or is now on much shaki­er ground.

A hand­ful of Re­pub­lic­ans in­ter­viewed said that the well-known Moore, who was sus­pen­ded in Septem­ber for or­der­ing pro­bate judges to defy fed­er­al or­ders re­gard­ing same-sex mar­riage, could be the most for­mid­able threat to Strange, par­tic­u­larly if the two can­did­ates are forced in­to a run­off.

“The whole prob­lem with Luth­er is people are sug­gest­ing there’s a mor­al cor­rup­tion in his ap­point­ment, and you’re go­ing to have a mor­al guy run,” Gray said. “That’s a huge ex­pos­ure for Luth­er.”

Oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans were skep­tic­al that there would be enough money for any­one in a large GOP field to mount a ser­i­ous chal­lenge, though GOP strategists noted that Marsh and Rane can both heav­ily self-fund.

They’ll need the cash. Strange already sits on a war chest of $764,000, and as the in­cum­bent he re­ceives back­ing from the GOP es­tab­lish­ment, in­clud­ing the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee.

“The NR­SC is al­ways fo­cused on our strong Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity, and Sen­at­or Luth­er Strange has our full sup­port,” said NR­SC com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or Katie Mar­tin.

That also in­cludes back­ing from Alabama’s seni­or sen­at­or, Richard Shelby, and the su­per PAC aligned with Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell. The Sen­ate Lead­er­ship Fund vowed in a state­ment Tues­day to pro­tect Strange, and an­oth­er Mc­Con­nell-linked group, One Na­tion, began air­ing a ra­dio ad earli­er this month that praises Strange for work­ing with Pres­id­ent Trump and At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Ses­sions on a con­ser­vat­ive agenda.

Some Alabama Re­pub­lic­ans were hes­it­ant to pre­dict how much Bent­ley’s resig­na­tion would factor in­to Strange’s reelec­tion. Still, they said, Strange, a former Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist, re­mains well-con­nec­ted, even as he weath­ers the op­tics of his situ­ation.

“The pic­ture be­ing painted of how he got his ap­point­ment … is ugly,” Alabama Re­pub­lic­an strategist Chris Brown said. “But Luth­er Strange has al­ways been an above-board guy who’s pro­sec­uted cor­rup­tion.”

What We're Following See More »
KIM CALLS TRUMP A “DOTARD”
North Korea Threatens H-Bomb Test Over Pacific
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"North Korea said on Friday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean after President Donald Trump vowed to destroy the reclusive country, with leader Kim Jong Un promising to make Trump pay dearly for his threats. Kim did not specify what action he would take against the United States or Trump, whom he called a 'mentally deranged U.S. dotard' in the latest bout of insults the two leaders have traded in recent weeks."

Source:
INFORMS CONGRESS RE: EXECUTIVE ORDER
Trump Makes Good on Promise of New North Korea Sanctions
1 days ago
THE LATEST

President Trump this afternoon announced another round of sanctions on North Korea, calling the regime "a continuing threat." The executive order, which Trump relayed to Congress, bans any ship or plane that has visited North Korea from visiting the United States within 180 days. The order also authorizes sanctions on any financial institution doing business with North Korea, and permits the secretaries of State and the Treasury to sanction any person involved in trading with North Korea, operating a port there, or involved in a variety of industries there.

SOUTH KOREA WILL SEND AID
Trump Promises More Sanctions on North Korea
2 days ago
THE LATEST

In response to a reporter's question, President Trump said "he’ll be looking to impose further financial penalties on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic tests. ... The U.N. has passed two resolutions recently aimed at squeezing the North Korean economy by cutting off oil, labor and exports to the nation." Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that South Korea's unification ministry is sending an $8m aid package aimed at infants and pregnant women in North Korea. The "humanitarian gesture [is] at odds with calls by Japan and the US for unwavering economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang."

Source:
HIGHLIGHT ISSUES FACING KIDS
FLOTUS to Speak at UN Luncheon
3 days ago
THE LATEST
PRESSES CASE FOR REFORMS
Trump Meets with UN Leaders
3 days ago
THE LATEST

President Trump on Tuesday night met with UN Secretary Guterres and President of the General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak. In both cases, as per releases from the White House, Trump pressed them on the need to reform the UN bureaucracy.

×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login