By Steve Flowers
The long hot summer has brought some crystallization to the 2020 U.S. Senate race. This seat is the one held by Sen. Jeff Sessions for almost two decades. He unwittingly made a strange and probably very regrettable decision to join President Donald J. Trump’s administration as Attorney General. Very few U.S. Senators with 20 years seniority would leave their permanent seats in the illustrious, powerful and elite United States Senate for a temporary four year at best tenure in a tumultuous and transient cabinet post.
Trump is tempestuous at the least and still likes to think of himself as the host of his TV reality show “The Apprentice,” who famously says, “You’re fired!” Trump recently tweeted that Sessions’ appointment as attorney general was the most regrettable appointment that he has made. You can more than likely ascertain that Sessions feels the same way about his decision to leave his safe senate seat for a shot as Trump’s attorney general. However, you could safely bet that the reserved, squeaky clean, “Dudley-Do-Right Eagle Scout” Sessions will not do any tweeting or betting on anything, much less his Trump controversy.
Therefore, the biggest question regarding the 2020 Senate race in the Heart of Dixie is would Sessions run to get his seat back? The answer is that he considered it. He was encouraged to run by the Washington Republican establishment, including Mitch McConnell. However, he has decided that at 72 he will not seek his seat.
My thoughts are that he could have and probably would have won. However, his departure from the race makes for some good theater.
It is assumed that the winner of next year’s March 3 GOP Primary will win the six-year Senate term. Alabama is one of, if not the most Republican states in America. With it being a presidential election year, Alabama will probably vote 65 to 35 for Trump. The GOP senate candidate can expect to mirror that landslide or at least win by a 60 to 40 margin, with maybe one exception.
That exception would be if Judge Roy Moore, for some reason were to be the Republican nominee, then that would give the Democrat, probably Sen. Doug Jones, a possible opening.
Moore begins the race with overwhelmingly negative name identification. He has 2-to-1 negative to positive polling numbers. Those numbers are not going to improve. Believe you me, the National Republican, McConnell, establishment money is going to pour in here to run negative ads against old Moore to make sure he is not the GOP standard bearer in the fall 2020. When they get through with him, his horse Sassy will even have negative numbers.
My guess is that Moore’s best days are behind him and that he will not be the GOP nominee.
However, he still has a hard core of support that will stay with him come hell or high water. He will probably get 18% of the primary vote and that will place him in a strong third place finish.
My early prediction is that First District Congressman, Bradley Byrne and Sec. of State John Merrill, will ultimately be in a runoff. Either would easily beat the Democrat in November 2020.
Byrne dedicated himself to this race more than a year ago. He jumped in and made a full commitment. He has been campaigning at full throttle for 15 months. There is a tried and true adage that applies in politics that the early bird gets the worm. Indeed, he has used his early dedication to the race to raise significant early money and some good commitments.
However, Byrne’s initial polling numbers are not great. The surprising aspect to the internal polling reveals that his 2010 governor’s race does not give him name identification.
The good side for him is that his negatives are also low. Folks have obviously forgotten that he ran for governor in 2010.
Most astute state inside observers believe that Sec. of State John Merrill is the man to beat in this race. Merrill is simply the hardest working retail politician in the state. He has a grassroots organization in all 67 counties. He has gotten his traction the old-fashioned way with hard work and a love for one-on-one politicking. He will outwork and out-organize all the candidates in the race combined.
Even though Merrill has built his organization the old-fashioned, hardworking way, he understands the new medium of networking and campaigning through social media.
It will be fun to watch.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.