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AL-01 candidates allege Club for Growth asked them to oppose bills benefitting their district

A potential flashpoint emerged on Wednesday in the Republican primary runoff in Alabama’s First Congressional District.

Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl is facing former State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) in the highly competitive race.

Hightower has been endorsed by the Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth’s political arm in the contest. As of last week, Club had already spent more than $1 million this cycle in support of Hightower’s bid; additionally, Club’s donor network has directly given hundreds of thousands more to Hightower’s campaign, per FEC filings.

On Wednesday, Carl posted on his personal Facebook page sharing his experience speaking with Club for Growth officials.

“Months ago, Club for Growth interviewed all the candidates in this congressional election, and they asked all of us if they could count on us to vote against Austal’s Littoral Combat Ship contract,” Carl said. “That’s right – we were asked to promise them we would vote against the 4000 jobs at Austal shipyard! I told them I’m not their guy, and I walked out of the interview. I’m not sure what my opponent told them, but there’s no way I could vote against 4000 jobs and the families they support here in the 1st District. No election win is that important to me.”

In an interview with FM Talk 1065’s Sean Sullivan later that day, Hightower said Club representatives have never asked him about voting against Austal.

Sullivan brought up the notion that Club had a “litmus test” in gauging who they would support that included opposition to Austal, as well as items such as the Farm Bill.

“That’s a lie,” Hightower responded. “That’s, that’s not, I don’t know where that’s come from.”

“When I was there, and I was interviewed and Mr. Carl was interviewed, I was asked nothing about Austal at all,” he continued. “I’ve been a firm supporter of Austal. I was with them on the phone today talking about how I’m going to help them when I get in the U.S. Congress. I’ve helped them before on their dredge projects. I’ve been an avid supporter of Austal along the way.”

Hightower further called the assertion by Carl regarding Club’s vetting process “a distraction.”

However, after Hightower’s radio interview, the third- and fourth-place finishers in the AL-01 GOP primary both responded to Carl’s original Facebook post saying that they had also been asked litmus test type questions by Club for Growth.

Local businessman Wes Lambert wrote, “I met with Club for Growth the last week of July 2019 before the defense budget vote. They asked me how I would vote and I told them I would vote for the bill. Austal is very important to our district and they need to continue to build great ships for our Navy. Club is against military spending so I was not [their] candidate.”

State Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) advised that Carl “speaks the truth” on the matter.

“The Club for Growth interviewed me and asked if I would vote against important legislation for South Alabama like the Farm Bill and the National Flood Insurance Bill,” Pringle added. “When I said ‘no’ to both, they told me those were the wrong answers. They don’t care about our district and they are actively working against the best interests of our citizens. We can’t trust this DC big money group or let them dictate who we should elect as our next congressman! They don’t like Jerry because he will do what is right for the district, regardless of what big money special interest groups like Club for Growth think.”

Both Lambert and Pringle endorsed Carl following the March primary election, as did Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) recently.

Byrne also weighed into the Club for Growth controversy on social media on Wednesday.

Sharing Carl’s original post, Byrne wrote, “This is incredibly troubling. Southwest Alabama needs a Congressman who is fighting for us, not doing the bidding of D.C. special interests. We should all be concerned about any D.C. special interest group spending thousands and thousands of dollars to win OUR House seat. I know Jerry Carl won’t let these special interests control him. That’s why I’m voting for Jerry on July 14th!”

Club for Growth heavily opposed Byrne’s run for the U.S. Senate this cycle, targeting him with negative ads ahead of Byrne finishing third behind former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville and former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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