Merrill officially running for Senate — ‘It’s time for us to stand up’
MONTGOMERY — In front of approximately 150 cheering friends, family and supporters on the south steps of the Alabama State Capitol, Secretary of State John Merrill on Tuesday officially declared his Republican candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2020.
The event was certainly the most widely attended campaign announcement of the cycle thus far, and Merrill — well known as a tenacious campaigner and tireless worker — brings authentic energy to an extremely competitive primary field of Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville, State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Merrill, 55, came out of the gates playing offense, releasing a video to coincide with his announcement that took small shots at his leading competitors.
At his event, Merrill was joined by many prominent grassroots activists from across the state, along with some well known political faces, including Alabama House Rules Committee Chairman Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) and former State Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle).
Merrill emphasized that although all of the other GOP candidates in the race have certain positives, he would not be running if he thought any of them could do a better job as Alabama’s next U.S. senator.
He explained that people started coming to him in January asking him to consider a run.
Over the course of this year since then, Merrill has heard from many different people wanting a consensus candidate that can unite the Alabama Republican Party and defeat Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in 2020. According to Merrill, he is running to be that candidate that is a unifying force among conservatives.
He said he met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in February right before the State of the Union and has also visited with Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) regarding the race. Both senior senators, according to Merrill, emphasized that their priority is to see a Republican nominee that can defeat Jones, help advance President Donald Trump’s agenda and keep the Republicans in the Senate majority.
Merrill said he has looked up to Shelby for a long time since he was an intern in the nation’s capital in 1984.
“I will continue to rely on him (Shelby) for guidance and counsel because of his experience and the things he’s done,” Merrill commented on his plans if elected. “But we’re always going to put Alabama first, and we’re always going to do everything we can to make America great.”
He said he has had the general desire to be a U.S. senator for a long time, going back to his college days.
An interesting talking point Merrill stressed was on fixing the immigration and border security “fiasco” in America. He slammed Democrats and Republicans alike for not solving the problem before now, saying that members of both parties just want to keep the situation in crisis to use as political red meat and a campaign “cash cow.”
Merrill said that agriculture is Alabama’s number one industry, and people in the state need a legal immigration system that allows migrant workers to properly enter the country and contribute to the American economy. He said that he wants anyone who wants to immigrate to the United States to be able to but that all immigrants must do so “the right way” — through legal channels.
“We have to have someone go to Washington, D.C. who’s willing to support the president and help the president build the wall to stop the immigration fiasco that’s currently ongoing in our nation,” Merrill remarked.
He also spoke more about how Jones is better suited to represent California, New York or Illinois than Alabama, saying Jones’ values and priorities simply do not match the clear majority of his constituents.
“It’s time for us to stand up … Alabama needs someone who will stand up to socialists AOC, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi, and I’ll do that, just like I did when I defeated the ACLU and liberal special interests,” Merrill said.
“I can tell you this, the people behind me and the people in the 67 counties of this state … do not want a liberal socialist representing them in Washington, D.C.,” he added of Jones.
The secretary of state also reminded people of his work to ensure all eligible Alabamians have their right to vote safeguarded, reiterating his tagline of, “Easy to vote, hard to cheat.”
Merrill, responding to a question from The Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman, ended any speculation that he will resign from his current office to run for the Senate. He explained that the secretary of state office’s job duties do not present a conflict of interest in running for a statewide office at the same time. It should also be noted that the secretary of state is an elected position and no one called for Merrill to resign when he was running for reelection in 2018 while overseeing that election cycle.
He branded himself as a “proven” choice, citing his tenure in the state House from 2010-2014 and as secretary of state as being marked with pro-jobs conservative reforms, including streamlining business filings to become same-day electronic filings now.
Merrill, a former SGA president at the University of Alabama who represented Tuscaloosa in the House, threw in a big, “Roll Tide” during his speech.
He continued, “Now, let me say this in deference to my friends from Lee County, whom I have many: I want you to know I can say, ‘War Eagle.'”
As a native of Wedowee, Merrill said ensuring rural Alabamians are equally represented in the Senate will be a key priority of his.
Watch the entire event:
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn