Shortly after Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, announced he would be departing the U.S. House of Representatives to take a job with the University of Alabama system, several lists of possible successors emerged.
The name “Wells Griffith” didn’t make it on to many — if any — of the early lists.
But when news began leaking out that some Republicans in both D.C. and the First Congressional District were encouraging Griffith to run for the open seat, political armchair quarterbacks immediately began handicapping his chances.
Griffith, a 30-year-old native of Mobile, is currently the deputy chief of staff at the Republican National Committee under chairman Reince Priebus.
Although Griffith has been a creature of Washington, D.C. for several years now, his family is well known in the First Congressional District thanks to Mobile landmark Griffith Shell on Government Street, which was founded by his grandfather in 1958 and is currently owned and operated by Preston Griffith, his father.
Griffith calls himself a “proud Alabamian.” As a 13-year-old kid, he would take the bus to and from his family’s full-service gas station to work washing windows.
“It taught me the values of hard work which I’ve applied to everything I’ve done since and that’s how I’ve gotten to where I’ve gotten in a short period,” he told Yellowhammer on Wednesday.
If Griffith were to jump in the race, some insiders believe he would look to fill a perceived opening in the establishment wing of the Republican Party, which has been left open by early frontrunner Bradley Byrne’s negatives.
Some portions of the GOP base still harbor negative feelings toward Byrne three years after the bloody 2010 gubernatorial primary. Several longtime political operatives have pointed out that Byrne may experience some “donor fatigue” after being so active raising money for the last decade. And he has received criticism in the past for his support of former President Bill Clinton. Byrne was originally elected to the state school board as a Democrat, but switched to the Republican Party in 1997 before being elected to the state senate.
But even with all of that being said, Byrne has a fiercely loyal base of support and sky-high name I.D. in the First Congressional District.
He will be tough to beat.
Some political insiders believe Griffith could be just the man to take Byrne on. Members of the RNC and the ALGOP executive committee have already been making calls rounding up support for his potential candidacy.
“I’ve been getting a lot of calls and support and encouragement from people I know, people I don’t know, my family and my friends — all in the district,” Griffith said. “It’s been humbling and it’s made me really strongly consider running. It would be an honor for me to serve south Alabama. I think it would be great to have a fresh face that is going to go up there and fight. I’m still praying about it and thinking about it.”
Griffith would likely be able to raise a significant amount of money out of Washington, D.C. However, his biggest strength — his inside-the-beltway connections — could also be his biggest liability.
Griffith’s candidacy would be largely based on the premise that his experience navigating Washington would make him uniquely qualified for the job. But with Americans’ trust in the Washington establishment at an all-time low, it is unclear whether south Alabama voters would consider Griffith’s time in D.C. a positive or a negative.
“I wouldn’t run him as the insider,” one campaign operative told Yellowhammer on condition of anonymity. “We’re talking about a kid who grew up in the District as the son of a gas station owner.”
The operative said Griffith has the potential to have wide appeal among the electorate.
“If you want a working man, he’s worked his way up from a gas station. If you want someone who can get things done in Washington, he can call Paul Ryan on his cell phone. He’s the rare candidate who can garner insider support without alienating the average voter because he’s got a compelling personal story to both groups.”
In addition to Byrne, there is a crowded field awaiting Griffith should he jump into the race.
Businessman Dean Young and conservative columnist Quin Hillyer have already been trading jabs as they fight for support from the conservative grassroots. A sleeper in this race may be State Rep. Chad Fincher. He has quietly put together a campaign operation that will be competitive in the grassroots as well as among rank and file Republicans. If he proves to be a formidable fundraiser, he will be one to watch.
Other candidates who have officially announced include State Rep. Randy Davis and Mobile real estate agent Jessica James.
Will Griffith add his name to that list?
He says he will make a final decision in the next two weeks followed by a formal announcement sometime after the Fourth of July holiday.
[Note: An earlier version of this article was corrected to say that Bradley Byrne was elected to the state board of education as a Democrat, rather than the state senate as was initially written.]
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