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Here’s how Alabama’s senators became major players in the GOP’s efforts to retake the senate

Sens. Jeff Sessions & Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Sens. Jeff Sessions & Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

All eyes are on the 35 U.S. Senate seats up for grabs this year.

Republicans need to pick up 6 seats to regain the majority and the election map is tilted in their favor. 21 of the 35 seats in play are currently held by Democrats; 7 of the seats held by Democrats are in states that Romney won in 2012; and history shows that the minority Party normally gains 6 or more seats in a midterm election of a president’s second term.

Those numbers have given Republicans a great deal of optimism this cycle. Famed election prognosticator Nate Silver stoked the GOP fire by predicting Republicans would pick up at least 6 seats. The Senate forecast on Silver’s blog currently gives Republicans a 54.8% chance of winning the majority in November.

And even though there’s very little action in Alabama — Jeff Sessions is the only senator in the country running unopposed and Richard Shelby’s seat is not up for re-election until 2016 — both of Alabama’s senators are playing significant, but very different roles in the GOP’s efforts to take back the upper chamber.

Sen. Shelby is a fundraising juggernaut. For decades he has been one of the top fundraisers in American politics. His principle campaign account currently has more cash on hand than any other senator — just under $18 million. But it’s Sen. Shelby’s political action committee, Defend America PAC, that is most notable this election cycle.

Defend America is what is commonly referred to as a leadership PAC. According to Open Secrets, “A leadership PAC is a political action committee that can be established by current and former members of Congress as well as other prominent political figures… Leadership PACs are used to fund other candidates’ campaigns, usually new candidates or threatened incumbents. Politicians often use their PACs to donate to other candidates because they are considering seeking a leadership position in Congress, a higher office, or leverage within their own party as they show off their fund-raising ability.”

According to Open Secrets, Defend America PAC currently has well over $4 million cash on hand. It has contributed to 27 Republican senate candidates this election cycle, all in amounts of $10,000 or more, and more is likely to come.

Sen. Sessions, while not as prolific a fundraiser as Shelby, has risen to national prominence as one of the Republican party’s thought leaders, especially on the issue of immigration.

By framing the immigration debate as one between American workers and wealthy, powerful special interests he’s dubbed the “Masters of the Universe,” Sessions has been able to expand the anti-amnesty coalition to include voters across the ideological spectrum.

In Republican-leaning and swing states with 2014 senate races — such as Colorado, Iowa, Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana — no one wants to be on the record in favor of President Obama’s executive amnesty plan. Republicans have Sessions to thank for that.

This past Thursday, four Democratic senators who had previously voted to block Sessions’ efforts to stop executive amnesty suddenly changed their position and voted to allow Sessions to attach the amendment to another bill.

But Politico told the real story, noting that the aforementioned senators all waited until the last second to vote, so they could do it knowing full well that the motion was going to fail:

All the Democrats who sided with Republicans — except for (West Virginia Sen. Joe) Manchin — waited until the last minute to cast their vote when it became clear the motion would fail.

And before she voted, (North Carolina Sen. Kay) Hagan was seen talking to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and then huddled off the floor with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has spent significant time and resources painting vulnerable Democrats as pro-amnesty.

“Yesterday it became clear just how worried Senate Democrats are about their vote” on executive amnesty, NRSC spokespeople Brad Dayspring and Brook Hougesen wrote in their organization’s newsletter on Friday. “There’s just one problem — each of these vulnerable Democratic Senators already voted to give President Obama the authority to grant executive amnesty. All Senate Democrats like Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen, Kay Hagan, Al Franken, Mark Pryor and Mark Begich did yesterday was remind voters that in addition to giving Obama blanket authority to grant executive amnesty, they also can’t be trusted.”

As we’ve written before, no state gains more than Alabama if Republicans take over the senate. And even though they’re playing drastically different roles, both of Alabama’s senators are doing what they can to make sure they do.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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