Subscription Preferences:
2 weeks ago

Who will run? Previewing Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate Election

Yellowhammer News previewed the 2020 U.S. Senate race three months ago, but things are really taking shape now that Alabama’s midterm election has passed.

However, there has been a “known unknown” thrust into the mix: will Jeff Sessions run to reclaim his former seat? That has become the key dynamic in the race that hopefully will be answered soon.

Yet, as much as that could shake up the Republican primary, there is one thing that has not changed and, in fact, became even clearer to the masses after Tuesday’s general election: Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) will not win a full term of his own, barring another Roy Moore-type debacle.

Who will be the Republican to defeat Jones? Here are the eight most compelling candidates to do just that, broken down by whether Sessions does or does not run.


If Sessions does not run: Ainsworth is on the rise in Alabama politics, and a jump to the United States Senate in 2020 now does not look like too much of a leap. He built solid name identification this year and would have a recency advantage over most of the pack in a primary season expected to kick off within months.

Another advantage Ainsworth has going is age. Alabama could really benefit from someone getting into the Senate who can stay for 30 – 40 years, in the mold of legendary statesman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa), and Ainsworth certainly fits the bill.

He knows the issues and seems comfortable talking to Republicans of all stripes. From economic development to immigration and abortion, Ainsworth has a wide-ranging portfolio of topics he is already on the record about. Coupled with his multi-millions in self-funding ability and his family’s ties to top-level federal donor networks, Ainsworth would be a major player if he decided to run. It would be a “free shot” for him considering his term as lieutenant governor will end in 2023, so keep a close eye on this young gun from Marshall County.

If Sessions does run: Ainsworth has a long future ahead of him and would be unlikely to risk his rising stock with a run against the venerable former senator. It would be best to wait for a better opportunity in this scenario.

If Sessions does not run: Someone from the Huntsville area will run for the Senate in a free-for-all field, with Battle being by far the strongest candidate from the area. The mayor has proven that he has a stronghold of votes in and around Madison County. For both fundraising and turnout, Huntsville’s reliance on federal dollars and policies will be a big boost for him.

By staying positive and building name identification in his television advertising against Governor Kay Ivey, Battle fostered good-will amongst some of the Republican Party faithful and built a base of favorability for this future run. However, it’s unclear how Battle will fare in a statewide race in which multiple candidates will be throwing jabs at him, probably all from the right. His social conservative bona fides will come under attack, and pivoting to economic development talking points will not work with the vast majority of Republican primary voters.

There is also speculation he still really does want to be governor and may wait until 2022 to try and do so. If Battle does not run for the Senate in this scenario, look for someone like Rep. Mo Brooks (AL-5) to carry the banner for north Alabama.

If Sessions does run: While Sessions is from south Alabama, his base runs statewide and federal industries in Huntsville have known him as a friend already in the Senate. Battle would stand little chance against Sessions and would be very unlikely to challenge him, as any credible Sessions challenge would have to come from Sessions’ right.

If Sessions does not run: Byrne has been the one potential candidate that has been out working across the state, traveling to different civic meetings, touring economic development sites to lay the groundwork for his campaign and sending press releases out left and right (well, right and right). Now that he won re-election on Tuesday, Byrne confirmed that he is officially exploring a Senate run.

In what is sure to be a crowded primary field, candidates with strong geographic bases like Byrne’s in vote-rich Baldwin and Mobile counties already have a leg-up as they seek to make a primary runoff. Byrne also has experience running statewide, a resulting name I.D. advantage over Alabama’s other seven members of the U.S. House, economic development success stories to tell and proven big-league fundraising ability. He also has over $1.1 million on hand as of October 17, and can continue raising money under his House committee, that can be transferred to an eventual Senate committee.

From his messaging in the past few months, it also looks like Byrne is aware that he needs to prove that he has learned from his 2010 upset defeat and better message to base Republican primary voters because he has been out front on social issues. If Sessions does not run, Byrne has vaulted himself to the front of the pack with his early hard-work.

If Sessions does run: This is a big question. Again, Byrne has been out working, which may scare some other credible candidates off. However, would Sessions put him off? They are both from the Mobile-area, so Byrne’s geographic advantage would be shot. It is unclear if this was his intent, but Byrne also signaled deference to the now-former attorney general after his resignation, saying he expects to meet with him in the “next few weeks.” This would seem to box Byrne in now, with it being expected that Byrne’s respect for Sessions would outweigh his ambition to run for the seat. Byrne is still going to be out working until that meeting, but he would have been better off framing any Sessions meeting as a talk about policy issues or a chat between friends instead of letting it look like a request for permission to run.

If Sessions does not run: Cavanaugh is amongst the most recognizable names in state politics, with the sky-high name identification that normally takes millions of dollars and many years to build. In what would be a relatively crowded field if Sessions sits the race out, a 2020 run would make a lot of sense for Cavanaugh. Her name I.D. alone would see her at or near the top of preliminary polls, and this kind of early success normally has an effect on donors, endorsements and earned-media coverage.

Consider also that Cavanaugh proved herself as a prolific fundraiser this past cycle, raising over $1.6 million in the lieutenant governor’s race and building a strong network of donors and influential supporters. Combined with her strong favorability with the Republican base, proven political savvy and leadership on social conservative issues (she co-chaired the successful effort to pass Amendment Two), she has the balance that most other candidates do not. And, as potentially the only woman in the race, she would stand out from the crowd.

If Sessions does run: Cavanaugh would be extremely unlikely to challenge Sessions, who she greatly respects and considers a friend.

If Sessions does not run: Like Ainsworth, this would be a free shot for Marsh, as his sixth term in the State Senate will not end until 2022, and his prolific self-funding ability is right up there with the best of them, which could give him a significant cash-on-hand head-start on almost all other elected officials on this list. Marsh also has a top-notch fundraising network to add onto his own funds, making him tough to compete with on the air waves.

As evidenced by this television ad he released last month, Marsh does have a compelling story to tell, too – it is one that resonates with Alabamians. Between his entrepreneurial successes and records of public service, Marsh will sell well on the campaign trail and in ads. He still has a long way to go in building the necessary name I.D., yet the silver lining – money and time, two things Marsh has on his side, can accomplish this.

Keep an eye on the major issues expected to come up in the Alabama Legislature in 2019 – infrastructure (probably a gas tax), the lottery and education reform – and how these could affect Marsh’s potential campaign.

If Sessions does run: Do not expect to see Marsh challenge Sessions. He can bide his time waiting on a better opportunity as Pro Tem.

If Sessions does not run: Not much has changed for Palmer since Yellowhammer News’ last preview. While Byrne has been out working and Marsh and Ainsworth impressed with recent television ads, Palmer has been laying low statewide as he works away on Capitol Hill.

This being said, if no other serious candidate from the Birmingham metropolitan area enters the race, Palmer would have the potential to collect a sizable vote from his ruby-red district. As a member of the House Freedom Caucus and given his tenure at the Alabama Policy Institute, he will have significant grassroots and Republican base appeal. Palmer not only knows conservative issues, he knows how to message conservative issues. He will be able to raise money competitively from the Birmingham business community and as a sitting Member of Congress, plus he has around $520,000 currently in his campaign coffer. His challenge will be low name identification outside of his district, and if the last few months are good indicators, being proactive in laying campaign ground work and promoting himself.

If Sessions does run: While Sessions likely clears the field of credible candidates completely or near it, Palmer seems more likely to run under this scenario than Byrne and certainly more so than Marsh (the two other candidates besides Palmer most rumored to be strongly weighing runs). He put out a statement on Sessions’ resignation a day after the fact, and it read like one that was trying a little too hard to not say much.

If Sessions does not run: People close to Roby do not seem to see this in the cards, but it makes a lot of sense. Besides Cavanaugh, she is the only woman with name recognition who could enter the race. Alabamians also tend to elect candidates who have the potential of acquiring and leveraging seniority in the Senate. Having just turned 42 in the last few months, Roby could serve for forty years if elected, matching one of Ainsworth’s strengths.

Assuming Roby would only enter the race if Cavanaugh did not, she could garner a sizable vote in the River Region and the Wiregrass, a Republican stronghold. Committee assignments will change with the new Congress, but Roby will hold some degree of fundraising leverage still and currently boasts a campaign balance of approximately $450,000.

She has almost entirely moved past her infamous opposition to President Donald Trump and could mount a compelling campaign if she wants to. That seems to be the biggest question, though. At her age, this might not be the best cycle to risk losing her House seat.

If Sessions does run: Roby will not run.

While Yellowhammer News has seen credible polling that shows Sessions’ net favorability is now slightly under water, he enjoys nearly universal name recognition in the state, as well as a record of service in the U.S. Senate that Alabama Republicans revered. Time will significantly heal the Trump wounds, and the president may very well publicly give his backing to Sessions in the near future and speed up his favorability recovery. Consider, too, that Sessions has approximately $2.5 million sitting idle in his campaign account.

Regardless, Sessions would clear the field completely or almost so of all credible candidates. Elected officials, party activists and conservative politicos have deep respect for Sessions and his lifetime of service, and many consider him to be a personal friend. Out of deference/respect, it would be hard to imagine a big name challenger to him returning to his seat, if he really wants it. Nominating Sessions would also be a guaranteed win against Doug Jones.

One aspect to ponder is whether Sessions would get his seniority back. Senate rules and recent precedent seem to suggest the answer would be “no,” however Sessions and Leader McConnell go way back, and Sen. Shelby would also probably have a thing or two to say about this in Sessions’ favor.

At the end of the day, this race is frozen for awhile until Sessions makes a decision. Knowing this, he holds a lot of power, and even if he eventually does not run, he could help tilt the race in a specific candidate’s favor by how long he keeps his cards close to the vest.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 mins ago

7 Things: Controversial deputy AG is out, Walt Maddox gets a participation trophy from himself, the SPLC demands no penalties for unpaid speeding tickets and more …

7. Ivanka Trump has a Hillary Clinton problem

— In what will surely be viewed as hypocritical and foolish behavior, President Donald Trump’s daughter and White House official, Ivanka Trump reportedly had been using a personal email account to conduct government business including interactions from a private email account with cabinet secretaries and forwards of her schedule to her assistant.

— There are no serious allegations that Trump used the email for anything that would be considered classified, but with the Democrats taking over the House of Representatives, they will surely be looking to exact revenge for the issues raised in the 2016 campaign. The fact that Jared Kushner set up a series of ijkfamily.com email accounts will also be scrutinized.

6. Alabama native and Yellowhammer founder Cliff Sims has written “Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House” about his time in the White House

584

— While going from Trump’s campaign to the West Wing, Sims kept pages of notes from his time as one of Trump’s trusted confidants.

— Sims summed the book up with a twist on one of Trump’s famous quotes, “Lincoln famously had his Team of Rivals. Trump had his Team of Vipers. We served. We fought. We brought our egos. We brought our personal agendas and vendettas. We were ruthless. And some of us, I assume, were good people.”

5. The dumb fight with the Trump administration and CNN may be over

— After suggesting the White House would still revoke the press pass from CNN’s Jim Acosta, it appears they are prepared to give him back his pass permanently and issue a series of rules that all reporters must follow.

— The rules state that reporters may only ask one question, follow-ups are given “at the discretion of the president or other White House officials” and reporters must “physically surrender” the microphone when asked to, but these have not been agreed to by the press so this could enter another contentious phase.

4. Another federal judge has decided he is in charge of immigration enforcement and stops President Trump from enforcing new asylum rules while the border patrol had to close a border entry point yesterday

— A federal judge says the Trump administration can no longer deny asylum to migrants who illegally cross the southern border. The judge added, “[H]e may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden” while the previous president’s DACA decision still stands.

Democrats are also raising concerns about an email conversation between Trump administration officials wondering if the administration will share census information with other agencies, making it less likely that illegals will fill out the census.

3. The Southern Poverty Law Center thinks Alabama shouldn’t be able to use unpaid traffic tickets to suspend licenses — They already want bail ended 

— The SPLC wants to block Alabama Law Enforcement Agency from suspending driver’s licenses of drivers with unpaid parking tickets, leaving the tickets unpaid and without penalty for not paying them.

— The lawless argument the SPLC is making here is basically that people shouldn’t have to pay the penalties for the offenses they commit, which is similar to their argument that bail is illegal.

2. Failed gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox gifts himself a participation trophy for getting 20,000 more votes than Senator Doug Jones and still losing

— In what millennials would call a “weird flex,” Tuscaloosa’s mayor decided to take to Twitter and post an infographic laying out how his loss to Governor Kay Ivey in early November was a really some symbolic victory.

— Maddox cited his 20,000 more votes than Sen, Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) got in 2017, claimed he had enough votes to win any other gubernatorial election since 2018 and surpassed his expected vote total and his number of donors. But he still lost by 300,000+ vote.

1. Alabama’s Attorney General fires/accepts the resignation of controversial prosecutor Matt Hart

— Matt Hart, the deputy attorney general of Alabama who led the Special Prosecutions Division, left his position on Monday. Hart has a series of high-profile government corruption convictions under his belt.

— Hart oversaw the convictions of former Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, the deal that saw Governor Robert Bentley resign and numerous other high-profile cases, but his tactics have been questioned repeatedly and many have alleged there is something more to this move than meets the eye.

1 hour ago

Doug Jones at Mobile U.S. Senate trade roundtable: Pentagon could play role in national security tariffs

MOBILE – Although President Donald Trump remains very popular in Alabama, his trade policies among the state’s business leaders appear to be mixed.

For the steel industry, which has been a fixture in Alabama for generations, the Trump administration’s handling of trade is a resounding success. Yet, for those in agriculture and auto manufacturing, there is much room for improvement.

That seemed to be the takeaway from a roundtable convened by Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) at the University of South Alabama on Monday.

658

The roundtable, an event sanctioned by the U.S. Senate under the body’s Homeland Security Committee, will be part of the permanent record of the Senate and that will be considered for legislation.

“I have a couple of bills pending involving automobile tariffs and national security tariffs,” Jones said. “So, it will be part of that record in the legislative history should those come to the floor or come to a vote.”

A statutory change under consideration according to Alabama’s junior senator regarding trade has to do with which cabinet department handles tariffs levied on a national security basis.

Jones says that could be best handled by the Department of Defense and not the Commerce Department.

“Under the national security threat, it bifurcates the process and moves the initial determination about national security – for instance, automobile – whether or not automobiles are a national security threat – that would move that to the Defense Department, who is better equipped to address national security concerns rather than the Commerce Department.”

Jones told Yellowhammer News the roundtable provided insights into how current trade policy directly impacted Alabama and influenced decision-making by business executives.

“It confirms what we’ve been saying – that the uncertainty of this policy is creating some problems,” Jones said to Yellowhammer News. “People are holding off. They’re not sure whether or not to expand their business, whether it is a small business or whether it is a big business. It shows there can be some serious consequences if certain tariffs are imposed. At the same time, it shows you where there can be successes – with the steel industry to stabilize markets.”

“One of the purposes of the hearing is to make sure the public is aware, people are aware,” he continued. “I think one of the takeaways that people will understand is that this policy and the retaliatory tariffs right now are having a devastating impact on farmers. We stand to lose a lot of overseas markets if this is not resolved. That’s the whole point of this. Let’s get it resolved one way or another, so we know where we stand. It’s gone on long enough.”

Jones elaborated on his personal views on trade when asked if a “free trade” or “fair trade” label could be applied to his views. He acknowledged there needed to be a balance of elements of free and fair trade. However, he also said his preference is trade alliances as opposed to trade wars.

“I don’t if you can really describe – I think fair trade is the most important aspect of that,” Jones said to Yellowhammer News. “There is always a strong element of free trade that’s included in that. You’ve got to balance trade with rogue countries like China has been over the years. And you got to make sure that countries that are subsidizing their trade do not have an unfair advantage because we want to protect our workers here in this country.”

“At the same time, we are much more of a global economy now and interconnected than we have ever been in the history of this earth,” he added. “And we got to recognize that – that what we can do, work together, is the way to try and manage this and help our country help other countries and help the global economy as well as our own. We want to make sure our workers are protected. We can do that better by forming alliances instead of doing trade wars.”

Monday’s roundtable participants included Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama vice president Robert Burns, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International general counsel Rick Clementz, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama assistant division manager Allyson Edwards, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama president David Fernandes, Aker Solutions project director Graham Jones, Baldwin County farmers Mark Kaiser and Daniel Perry, Nucor Steel Decatur vice president Mike Lee, Alabama State Port Authority Director & CEO Jimmy Lyons and Fairfield Works Tubular plant manager Brent Sansing.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

2 hours ago

Terri Sewell slams Kay Ivey — Claims ‘daughter of the Black Belt’ would not help save Camden hospital

SELMA – One of the primary themes at a town hall hosted by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) on Monday night was health care, which is also one on which that House Democrats campaigned in this year’s midterm elections.

Although Democrats nationally had success in the midterms, in Alabama they were unable to capitalize electorally on health care, especially given the emphasization Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox gave to expanding Medicaid in his failed gubernatorial bid.

Nonetheless, Sewell argued before a crowd assembled at the Selma Interpretive Center for her town hall event in downtown Selma that Medicaid expansion was a priority and she decried the unwillingness of Alabama policymakers to agree.

377

“States like Alabama were not supposed to be able to opt out of expanding Medicaid,” Sewell said. “The last two governors have not done that. It’s horrible. The reality is the fact that we have not expanded Medicaid means rural hospitals are under threat. Alabama has a bare-bones Medicaid system. They pay less than 10 percent on a dollar for the services for Medicaid.”

According to Alabama’s lone Democratic member of Congress, the closure of rural hospitals was the result of not expanding Medicaid.

“We have missed out on millions – actually billions of dollars in the state of Alabama in not expanding Medicaid,” Sewell said. “We could use that money, and the fact that we don’t have that money means that so many of our rural hospitals are under threat of closing. I don’t have to tell the Black Belt.”

Sewell referenced the John Paul Jones Hospital in nearby Camden, which was on the verge of closing in 2017 but got a last-minute reprieve after an agreement was made with UAB earlier this year.

She took aim at Gov. Kay Ivey, a native of Camden, for not doing more to save the Wilcox County hospital.

“We saved [John] Paul Jones Hospital, but we did so with the help of UAB,” she said. “Now, that’s not a model that can be done to scale. What I did is I begged UAB because our own governor, who is from Wilcox [County], would not help us to save Wilcox County’s hospital. That’s unacceptable, by the way. And I’m not telling her anything that I wouldn’t tell her to her face and have told her because when you’re a daughter of the Black Belt, you have to understand that you have got to take care of home.”

Sewell told those in attendance she went to UAB Health System CEO William Ferniany and warned if Camden’s John Paul Jones Hospital closed, hospitals in Selma and Demopolis could be threatened, and that might result in everyone “bum-rushing” UAB for health care.

“Rural hospitals are on the chopping block and the number-one priority for me is keeping the doors open and making sure access is there, but also making sure quality is there,” she added.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

16 hours ago

Assistant U.S. attorney to replace Hart in leading Special Prosecutions Division

Multiple sources have told Yellowhammer News that Anna “Clark” Morris, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, will take over the Special Prosecutions Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

The announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday. Attorney General Steve Marshall accepted the resignation of Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart, who has led the division for years, on Monday morning.

Morris served as the acting U.S. Attorney for Alabama’s middle district last year, in between President Donald Trump firing former USA George Beck in March of 2017 and now-USA Louis Franklin being confirmed that September.

32

Morris is an Alabama native and a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

17 hours ago

Blue Cross and Blue Shield adds Ted Hosp to its governmental affairs team

Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) of Alabama is adding one of the state’s top legal minds to its already first-class governmental affairs team.

On Monday, BCBS announced that Ted Hosp has been officially named as the company’s executive director of governmental affairs.

Hosp joins Blue Cross from Alabama-based Maynard, Cooper and Gale, where he most recently chaired the prominent law firm’s governmental and regulatory affairs practice group. Hosp is widely recognized as a leader in the areas of government ethics laws and the legislative process. He is a graduate of Brown University and received his law degree from Fordham University.

In a press release, Robin Stone, BCBS vice president of governmental affairs, lauded the impact that Hosp is expected to have.

137

“Ted’s experience at Maynard working with our company on legislative and regulatory issues will enable him to bring immediate and long term value to our advocacy on behalf of our customers at the local, state and federal level,” Stone said.

Hosp currently chairs the Alabama Access to Justice Commission, established by the state Supreme Court in 2007. Additionally, he serves on the Alabama State Bar Committee on Volunteer Lawyers Programs and on the board of the Middle District of Alabama Federal Defender’s Program. Hosp has previously served on the boards of the Birmingham Volunteer Lawyers Program and the Montgomery Bar Volunteer Lawyers Program.

He is married to Alison Wingate Hosp, who handles governmental affairs for the Alabama Retail Association as its vice president.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn