Luther Strange Likely to Face Crowded Primary

Republicans say a new special-election date in Alabama leaves the incumbent senator 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 »
PRESIDENT CALLS MEDICAID FUNDS A “BAILOUT”
Puerto Rico Another Sticking Point in Budget Talks
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."

Source:
SHUT DOWN MISLEADING FALSEHOODS
Facebook To Cut Down On Govt-Sponsored Info Campaigns
3 hours ago
BREAKING

Facebook "outlined new measures it is taking to combat what it calls 'information operations' that go well beyond the phenomenon known as fake news" on Thursday. Facebook acknowledged that there are governments using its platform as a tool to launch propaganda information campaigns and "manipulate public opinion in other countries. ... Facebook suspended 30,000 accounts in France ahead of last Sunday’s first-round presidential election."

Source:
POTENTIAL GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN?
Democrats Threaten Spending Bill Over Obamacare
7 hours ago
BREAKING

Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.

Source:
IN 2014
Pentagon Warned Flynn Not To Accept Foreign Payments
9 hours ago
BREAKING
WOULD PUSH DEADLINE TO MAY 5
One-Week Spending Bill On The Table
9 hours ago
BREAKING

Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Source:
×
×

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