The McConnell factor in Alabama [UPDATED]

In my post last night about the GOP Senate primary in Alabama, I noted that Judge Roy Moore has a large and somewhat surprising lead over Luther Strange, who was appointed to replace Jeff Sessions and has been endorsed by President Trump. In lieu of offering a full explanation, I pleaded ignorance of Alabama politics.

Fortunately, a longtime Power Line reader and GOP insider from Alabama has offered his insights. He argues that Strange is paying the price in the run-off for attacks made on his behalf in the first round of the primary against third place finisher, and respected conservative, Rep. Mo Brooks:

The “smart money” had anticipated that whoever got into the run-off with Judge Moore would likely win the nomination. Moore has a very strong base of evangelical support, but all – including me – believed that he had a hard ceiling of perhaps 40-45% at most of the GOP voters. He has been forced off of the Alabama Supreme Court twice now, first for not removing a stone carving of the 10 Commandments from the Supreme Court that he had commissioned and then for refusing to recognize gay marriages after a court order (actually more nuanced than that, but fairly close).

Luther Strange, a former lobbyist of many years, was most recently Alabama AG and [was] investigating the Governor for using state resources in furtherance of an affair. He paused the investigation and shortly thereafter the Governor appreciatively appointed him to fill Sen Sessions’ seat, with the special election set for 2018. Subsequently the Governor resigned before being impeached and the new Republican Governor moved the election from 2018 to 2017, as Gov. Kay Ivey (note: Southern Republican female for any members of Team Diversity out there) may have suspected a quid-pro-quo in the appointment.

Mo Brooks is a member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the major opponents of the first iteration of Trump Care because it did not repeal and barely replaced. He also headed up the Cruz campaign in Alabama and was critical of Trump during the Presidential primary.

Brooks is frequently criticized for worrying more about government spending than providing pork for the Huntsville defense and aerospace contractors which dominate North Alabama’s economy. That his principles are not flexible enough is a common complaint, while few believe that Strange suffers from such egregious character defects. Brooks’ presence in the Senate would have significantly complicated Mitch McConnell’s life.

McConnell’s Senate Leadership PAC poured $8 million to support Strange, in a state where there was less than 1 chance in 989.423 that a Democrat could win – Sen Sessions ran unopposed in his last race. Even acknowledging that McConnell must support an incumbent Senator appointed so recently that the ink had not dried on Strange stationery, a good $7 million of the $8 million might have been better spent saving an at-risk Senate seat or picking another one up in 2018 from the Dems.

But instead McConnell’s PAC ran ads claiming that Brooks supported ISIS over our troops and other ads playing criticisms Brooks had made of Trump during the GOP primary, but with the added charm of claiming that that Brooks had made them just a few days ago. Support for ISIS may be somewhat common in Minneapolis, particularly among those receiving tours of your beautiful airport, but I can assure you that it is not common here in Alabama circles. Huntsville is the home of Redstone Arsenal where much of our strategic defense is developed and is also home of Army Aviation. Few in Huntsville would believe such ads, although I am sure they made a difference where Brooks is not well-known.

However, what McConnell and Rove may not have understood is that calling a principled patriot a traitor can become an affair of honor for both Brooks and his supporters. Huntsville once bequeathed Sean Hannity to the nation. Sitting in Sean’s former seat at WVNN is Dale Jackson, firmly in Mo’s camp, who has advocated that Brooks supporters sit out the run-off unless Mo endorses a candidate.

Strange would have been more likely the second choice of Brooks voters, until the ISIS calumnies. And the rumor is that McConnell allies will pour $s in to challenge Brooks in the next House election. While pistols at dawn are no longer in vogue in Alabama (where almost anything goes), instead of voting, many of us may spend the day of the run-off debating whether Alabama’s first team will play Alabama’s second string in college football’s National Championship.

Irony of ironies is that McConnell’s $8 million and a last-minute endorsement plus robo-calls from Trump just might make the December general election competitive. If Brooks supporters stay home and Moore wins, the Dems rejoice. Moore, far more than Strange or Brooks, would massively motivate the Dem electorate. It becomes possible, although still highly unlikely, that McConnell actually could lose one of his Senate seats. And if Moore wins in the general election, after what will undoubtedly be another brutal primary run-off, McConnell will have in Moore a Senator who holds him in contempt, and Moore, a USMA Army officer, does not appear to get over slights easily.

UPDATE: Quin Hillyer, longtime observer of Alabama politics and one-time candidate for Congress in that state, explained Judge Moore’s victory in this New York Times column. His column, written right after the first round of voting, predicted victory for Moore in the run-off.

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