By Daniel Bruce
No one can deny that we are living in strange times. From Russia interfering in U.S. elections, to a President who appears to be either a lunatic or a genius as he enrages the media by making up words like “covfefe,” to our own governor marred by a sex scandal, it seems our country is spiraling out of control by the second. And yet, in the midst of all of the chaos, we Alabamians have a decision to make: who to elect as our new senator.
On February 8, after an intense confirmation process, Jeff Sessions assumed office as the 84th Attorney General of the United States. Serving as Alabama’s junior senator for over two decades, Sessions proved himself a hard-nosed conservative. He vehemently opposed any legislation that took the slightest leniency toward immigration, consistently warned against America’s impending debt crisis, and touted the toughness of the American military. However, he also showed that he was open to bipartisanship, working with democrats on criminal justice reform and federal spending. Despite allegations of racism throughout his career, Alabamians continued to elect him to be our voice in the Senate. Whoever his successor may be has big shoes to fill as they attempt to uphold the values of our state and bring a significant change to Washington.
Sessions’ full-time successor will be chosen sooner than many thought. Shortly after assuming office following Robert Bentley’s resignation, Governor Ivey scheduled the special election for December 12, with the primary being held on August 15. With 18 candidates running for the seat, 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats, the election, especially the primaries, may prove to be a bloody battle. Since Alabama has reelected its two Republican senators for over 20 years, it is safe to say that one of the 10 Republicans will be our next senator, but the question is: which one? Luther Strange, the six foot nine appointed incumbent, and Mo Brooks, the controversial Representative, seem to have the best chance.
Luther Strange was appointed as Jeff Sessions’ replacement by then Governor Robert Bentley in a decision that, to many, reeked of ulterior motive. Prior to his appointment, Strange served as Alabama’s Attorney General, and at the time his office was actively investigating Governor Bentley’s infamous sex scandal. In fact, Strange asked the House Judiciary Committee to suspend its impeachment process so as to not interfere with his investigation. Therefore, when Bentley soon appointed Strange to the vacated senate seat, questions and allegations about corruption began to fly. After the appointment, Strange denied that there ever was an investigation into Bentley, a claim that was later debunked by the new Attorney General. As the primary approaches, voters will have a decision to make: is Strange too closely aligned to the Bentley corruption that has plagued this state for the better part of the past year?
Despite the mystery behind his appointment, Strange has stepped up to the task of representing the people of Alabama. While he has only been in office a little over 100 days, he has proved himself as a faithful Establishment Conservative, earning him the backing of many conservatives in the senate, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. As a party loyalist, Strange has thrown his complete support behind the Trump Administration since day one, and is a strong supporter of the Republican Party’s agenda. In fact, the GOP is treating him as an incumbent and see him as crucial in keeping their slim majority in the senate. According to Politico, Strange is backed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund, which are pledging millions of dollars to his campaign and making it difficult for any of his opponents to hire political consultants[i]. Some Strange opponents call foul as he seems to be backed by the same swamp he wants to drain. However, with such a strong arsenal of high level support, it will be a daunting task for any of the 10 Republicans to oppose Luther Strange.
One of those opponents, Mo Brooks may have a fighting chance. As the current Representative from Alabama’s 5th District, Brooks has a strong conservative track record that earned him the favor of the Tea Party, but he is not immune to controversies of his own, especially when he opens his mouth. Most recently, Brooks came under fire for an interview on healthcare reform in which he said that people who live “good lives” should pay less for healthcare than those with pre-existing conditions[ii]. While this statement becomes a lot more offensive when taken out of context, Brooks has endured major backlash from the media for his remarks. Bombastic and usually appearing very harsh, Brooks is a stark contrast to the towering Strange who is usually calm and collective, never hesitating to flash a smile to the camera.
Despite not having the same political backing as Strange, Brooks has already managed to mount a significant campaign. According to al.com, he already has $1.2 million in his campaign fund only a month after announcing his candidacy[iii]. As a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Brooks has found recent success working towards the passing of the American Health Care Act. His association with the caucus also placed him as one of James Hodgkinson’s targets in the recent shooting at a GOP baseball practice. By the grace of God and the bravery of the men and women in the Capitol and Alexandria police, that situation was not worse than it was. Not to make light of a horrible atrocity, but Brooks may gain some sympathetic support in the coming weeks because of his involvement. Despite his claim that he is the “only candidate who has a proven record of conservative leadership[iv],” his opponents accuse him of not backing any significant legislation besides the healthcare bill. Brooks has also come under fire for his lack of support of President Trump throughout the election and beyond, accusing him of “serial adultery[v].” It is this hard-stance, controversial personality that may dissuade the support of many Republicans who may see Brooks as someone who will not be easy to work with.
These two candidates present voters with an interesting decision going into the primary. Both hold deeply conservative views on today’s hot button issues such as immigration, healthcare, and the like. Both have had their fair share of controversy in the past months. Such similarities set the stage for a bloody race going into August. For Strange to gain the support of voters, he must rid himself of the stigma of corruption that has followed him around since the Bentley scandal. For Brooks to win, he must not only make sure that Strange keeps that stigma, but also prove that he can work with Republicans to produce the significant change in Washington that so many voters long to see. The next couple of months will be crucial as both candidates attempt to paint the other as a corrupt member of the swamp of Washington and themselves as the heroic outsider who can get things done.
This battle became relevant during the recent senatorial debate held in Oxford on June 19. Strange was curiously absent from the debate, sparking questions as to why he would not make an appearance. Since the other two biggest contenders, Brooks and Moore, were both there, not showing up may put another blemish on Strange’s record. Although, perhaps he had some inside information, as the debate proved to not be much of a debate at all. Fighting through multiple microphone mishaps, all four candidates on stage managed to answer the questions they were asked and that is it. There was no debating at all. No candidate attempted to argue why they were a better candidate than the one they were standing next to, and not one gave any real direction as to what they wanted to do for the state of Alabama. In fact, the highlight of the debate may have been Judge Moore’s impressive ability to quote nearly the entirety of the U.S. Constitution. The only time the debate got slightly heated was when a couple of candidates managed to slip references to Strange’s absence. While Strange should have been at the debate, he really didn’t miss much, and it has yet to be seen what kind of impact his absence will have on his campaign.
As this continuing battle will inevitably result in a close race to the finish, there are a few things that I think will push Luther Strange ahead and ultimately to the senate seat. First: his unwavering support for President Trump. While Mo Brooks originally endorsed Ted Cruz for the Republican presidential nominee and later refused to publically endorse Trump’s campaign, Strange has endorsed Trump from the beginning and continues to support the Trump Administration’s agenda. In a state where the President enjoyed overwhelming support from the start of his campaign and won by a near-record margin, not to mention the home state of his Attorney General, a candidate’s loyalty to the President will play a crucial role in this election. Second: Roy Moore. No, I haven’t forgotten about Judge Moore. Moore has a good chance as well and has a strong following with the more conservative voters in the state. However, he may be seen as equally bombastic, controversial, and a hard-headed conservative as Brooks. With little distinguishing the two, it will be interesting to see how they can separate themselves going into the primary. If not, they could take votes away from each other giving Strange a push. Third: Strange has been there before. Even though he has only been in office for a little over a hundred days, he has not just sat idly by waiting to actually be elected. He hit the ground running and earned the respect of many of his Republican colleagues, and Alabamians will reward him for that. Alabama is notorious for re-electing its senators; Sessions served for over twenty years and Richard Shelby has served for over thirty. The fact that Strange has been in office before, Alabamians know is name, and he seems to be doing his job well will be very beneficial as he heads into the primary.
Alabamians are a strong group of people. We have been put through numerous trials and turmoil throughout our history, and the recent political scandals are no exception. We long for someone who will rise above the muck of politics, voice our opinions in Washington, and get things done. While Mo Brooks may have managed to stay clean from the scandals that enthralled Montgomery, he falls short when it comes to his personality and track record. Luther Strange has risen to the occasion as Alabama’s newest senator. He supports the President and will be a crucial representative of the strong Republican ideals of our state. It seems inevitable that he will continue as our senator, but that will be determined on election day.
- Kim, Seung Min, and Edward-Isaac Dovere. "Inside Alabama’s Strange Senate race." May 27, 2017. Accessed June 03, 2017. http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/27/alabama-strange-senate-238868.
- Leada Gore. "Rep. Mo Brooks: People who live 'good lives' should pay less for health insurance." May 02, 2017. Accessed June 03, 2017. http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/05/rep_mo_brooks_people_who_live.html
- Leada Gore. "Rep. Mo Brooks enters Senate race with $1.2 million warchest: Who is donating to Brooks?" AL.com. May 16, 2017. Accessed June 03, 2017. http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2017/05/rep_mo_brooks_enters_senate_ra.html
- Lyman, Brian. "U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks jumps into Alabama Senate race." The Montgomery Advertiser. May 15, 2017. Accessed June 03, 2017. http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/politics/southunionstreet/2017/05/15/us-rep-mo-brooks-jumps-into-alabama-senate-race/101703398/.
- Howard Koplowitz. "Why will Mo Brooks never endorse Donald Trump? 'Serial adultery' and 'hundreds' of other reasons." AL.com. February 29, 2016. Accessed June 03, 2017. http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2016/02/why_will_mo_brooks_never_endor.html.
About the Author: Daniel Bruce is an intern at the Reid Law Firm as well and a student at Auburn University majoring in Political Science and Economics. Daniel may be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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