7 months 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

60 mins ago

Shelby secures deal that would give Trump $4.59 billion more to combat border crisis

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) on Wednesday got legislation overwhelmingly approved by the Senate Committee on Appropriations that would provide $4.59 billion in emergency supplemental funding to address the crisis at the United States’ border with Mexico.

The compromise legislation was negotiated by Shelby, the powerful chairman of the committee, and committee vice chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The committee voted to advance the legislation by a remarkable vote of 30-1.

Before the committee voted, Shelby delivered remarks strongly supporting increased border security.

“The situation is past the breaking point. We must act,” he urged his colleagues.

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Shelby’s full remarks as follows:

The Committee will come to order. Today the Committee considers legislation to address the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis along our southern border.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than 675,000 illegal immigrants have been apprehended or encountered at ports of entry so far this fiscal year.

Making this crisis even more acute, we are seeing a dramatic spike in the number of children and families making the dangerous journey north to the U.S.

Our personnel on the ground are doing everything they can to secure the border and care for these vulnerable populations.

But their determination has outstripped their resources.

Last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security stated the following:

“The volume and composition of populations arriving at the southern border are simply unsustainable. Unless Congress acts, the situation will continue to deteriorate – with grave consequences.”

The situation is past the breaking point. We must act.

I say to my colleagues, today the Appropriations Committee will act.

I am pleased that we will do so in a bipartisan manner, and I want to thank Vice Chairman Leahy for working with me to find common ground.

The legislation we bring before the Committee today contains a total of $4.59 billion to address the border crisis.

Of this amount, $2.9 billion is provided for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is tasked with caring for unaccompanied children and placing them in suitable homes.

The legislation also includes $1.3 billion for the Department of Homeland Security to provide basic necessities – food, shelter and medical care – to adult migrants they detain.

An additional $145 million is provided for the Department of Defense, which has mobilized to help respond to the crisis.

And finally, $220 million is included for the Department of Justice, to help process immigration cases and detain dangerous individuals.

This package does not include everything I wanted.

It does not include everything Vice Chairman Leahy wanted.

But most importantly, it does not include poison pills from either party.

I ask for my colleagues’ cooperation in holding any such amendments until this package reaches the Senate floor – just like we did during the FY19 process with such great success.

In addition, I ask my colleagues to refrain from offering any amendments that pertain to broader immigration policy.

The appropriate venue for such amendments is the authorizing committee, and Chairman Graham is marking up immigration legislation in the Judiciary Committee tomorrow.

So I urge my colleagues interested in broader immigration policy to discuss their ideas with Chairman Graham and Ranking Member Feinstein.

By adhering to this framework I believe that we will be able to move forward together with a strong bipartisan vote here today.

Our border security professionals and the children and families in their care cannot afford further delay, and I am hopeful that a strong bipartisan vote will provide the momentum needed to assist our folks on the front lines.

Before I turn to Vice Chairman Leahy to offer his remarks and make a motion, I want expand briefly on the importance of moving forward together – not just on this package, but on fiscal year ’20 appropriations bills.

Coming to an agreement on topline numbers is very important, and I am working with Leader McConnell, Secretary Mnuchin, Speaker Pelosi and Vice Chairman Leahy on that front.

But we also need to have agreement on keeping poison pills out of our process in fiscal year ’20.

That was the foundation of our success in fiscal year ’19.

And that is what is allowing us to move forward together here today.

I believe that my colleagues agree it should also be the basis for our work ahead.

If we show that critical mass is still behind this simple and proven framework, we can move bills quickly once we have topline numbers.

But if we start chipping away at it, I fear we will return to the old frustrations and failures of previous years.

Something none of us wants. I know I don’t.

And with that, I turn to my good friend and Vice Chairman, Senator Leahy, to offer his opening remarks and make a motion.

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

1 hour ago

7 Things: Trump campaign has cash, Moore to enter Senate race, reparations circus goes on and more …

7. Montgomery parents could start paying for their kids’ crimes

  • Montgomery City Councilman Glen Pruitt has introduced a city ordinance that would require parents be punished when their children commit a crime, which is basically a copy of an ordinance that was introduced in South Fulton, Georgia, last year.
  • Legal transgressions committed by kids that could get their parents in trouble include drug and alcohol possession or use, failure to keep curfews, possession or use of firearms, truancy, improper supervision, theft and property damage.

6. The Hyde Amendment is here to stay — for now

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  • There has recently been a great deal of vocal opposition to the Hyde Amendment from 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, but the Democrat-controlled House just reauthorized the Hyde Amendment.
  • This has been a big part of the Democrat presidential debate, but a vote on a spending bill that included the Hyde Amendment reauthorization passed 226-203. No Republicans voted for it and only six Democrats voted against it, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), noted historian and de facto leader of the Democratic Party.

5. A Syrian refugee was plotting an attack on a church in Pittsburgh

  • Mustafa Mousab Alowemer was admitted to the United States as a refugee in 2016, but now he is accused of planning an attack on the Legacy International Worship Center in Pittsburgh. The Department of Justice claims this was planned “to support the cause of ISIS and to inspire other ISIS supporters in the United States.” 
  • To bolster their government’s take on this, the DOJ released a statement that laid out Alowemer’s alleged crimes. It read, “Alowemer also distributed propaganda materials, offered to provide potential targets in the Pittsburgh area, requested a weapon with a silencer, and recorded a video of himself pledging an oath of allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

4. There will be no reparations

  • In the past, Democrats like President Barack Obama have opposed the proposition of paying slavery reparations. The Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties committee held a hearing to address the bill that would create a commission that would develop an answer to whether African-American citizens should be paid slavery reparations.
  • However, during the hearing, tensions were high and Representative Mike Johnson (R-LA) was booed as he commented on the bill, “Putting aside the injustice of monetary reparations from current taxpayers for the sins of a small subset of Americans from many generations ago, the fair distribution of reparations would be nearly impossible when one considers the complexity of the American struggle to abolish slavery.”

3. Latest Roy Moore embarrassment kicks off today

  • Today, former Chief Justice Roy Moore will be announcing if he’s running for the Senate seat he lost to Doug Jones in 2017. But if he’s been waiting to announce without any real reason then he’s more than likely running, you do not hold this kind of an event to announce that you are not running for office.
  • Moore’s announcement will be held at 2:00 p.m. at The Ballroom in Montgomery and will likely kick off a campaign that is the dream of the media and their Democrats. Moore lost to Senator Doug Jones in 2017 and will definitely be the candidate Jones will favor in the Republican primary. 

2. Shelby wants less of Moore

  • With Roy Moore expected to announce his decision about whether he’ll be entering the 2020 U.S. Senate race on Thursday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is once again pointing out that Moore is a terrible candidate, a position that President Donald Trump agrees with. He has advised Moore to not run.
  • Shelby said that Alabama could do better than Moore, as well as noting that if Moore as the nominee would make it harder for Republicans to win back that Senate seat, and then went on to mention that if former Attorney General Jeff Sessions were to enter the race he would “probably clear the field” and win the Republican primary and general election easily.

1. Money Trumps all?

  • President Trump officially announced his reelection bid in Florida on Tuesday, and less than 24 hours later his campaign announced that they’ve already raised $24.8 million, which is far more than all of the Democratic candidates combined in the first 24 hours of their election bids.
  • It was just this week that 2020 presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden announced that his campaign has raised about $20 million. Of course, despite his substantial fundraising, Trump is still polling lower than Biden by 10 points. However, it is way too early for that to matter.

2 hours ago

Mooney praises Trump for use of tariff threat on Mexico; Says immigration remains ‘a major issue’ for Alabamians

If the early stages of the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat up in 2020 is any indicator, immigration remains a front-burner issue for Alabamians.

That is how State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs), a GOP candidate for U.S. Senate, views the subject as well.

In an interview that aired Wednesday on Huntsville’s WVNN, the Shelby County Republican weighed in on the topic and offered President Donald Trump praise for his use of tariffs to force Mexico to pledge to be more proactive in stymying the flow of migrants through the U.S.-Mexico border.

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“I think quite frankly, it got the results that were needed,” Mooney said on “The Jeff Poor Show.” “We got people to the table. We got people there to cooperate, begin to solve the problem. You have got to use every tool that is in the toolbox. I’m a free trade person. I believe in that, but I also understand clearly that when you have a president who delivers on his threats in the manner Donald Trump has when he has challenged people to get them to the point of doing something and working on something, he’s been successful with that. They know he may do what he’s talking about. So, they tend to come and begin to negotiate. And then we get a resolution as such that is beneficial to us and beneficial to them.”

Mooney said among voters he has talked with on the campaign trail, the U.S. immigration system is one of their primary concerns.

“I hear consistently and constantly from voters in Alabama about immigration and how important it is and how much concern they have about it,” he added. “It is a major issue in this election, and it is a major issue for our nation, and it has got to be worked on and solved.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

3 hours ago

DeKalb Co. deputies bust another illegal alien human smuggling operation

The DeKalb County criminal interdiction team on Wednesday busted yet another alleged human smuggling operation involving illegal aliens.

A press release from the sheriff’s office explained that the team was working the major highways and interstates within the county when interdiction deputies at approximately 10:30 a.m. conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle near the 218 mile marker of I-59.

After searching the vehicle, 10 illegal aliens were discovered.

An initial investigation determined a human smuggling operation was ongoing. The individuals were from El Salvador, Ecuador and Guatemala, according to the sheriff’s office.

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The Department of Homeland Security was then called to the scene and the suspects were taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

“This is another great job by our Interdiction Team. Even though we are far from the Southern Border, we can still play a role in enforcing our nation’s laws right here in DeKalb County,” Sheriff Nick Welden said.

“While it may seem that they were trying to start a new life in our country, these people are exploited and taken advantage of. Some have to pay thousands of dollars to be smuggled in and are made to work for inhumane wages,” he added.

The investigation is still ongoing and federal charges are pending.

Welden concluded, “Again, I’d like to thank our interdiction team for another job well done. God Bless!”

Nine illegal aliens were arrested after a similar traffic stop in DeKalb County just weeks ago.

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

3 hours ago

Former Miss America Heather Whitestone McCallum rules out Alabama 2020 U.S. Senate bid

Miss America 1995 Heather Whitestone McCallum will not be a candidate in Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate race.

She told Yellowhammer News on Wednesday evening that she has finalized her decision and will not run, saying the timing was not right for her.

A Republican, she had been considering running for several months, even conducting polling in the spring to help make an informed decision.

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“Alabama has given so much to me. It would definitely be an honor to give back to the people of my state,” Whitestone said in a statement to Yellowhammer News earlier this year. “That being said, it is something my husband John and I are praying about.”

Whitestone, a Dothan native, is also a former Miss Alabama. She made history as the first deaf Miss America, having fully lost her hearing when she was 18-months old. Whitestone underwent a cochlear implant surgery to partially restore her hearing in 2002.

She has authored multiple faith-centric books, including “Listening With My Heart,” “Believing The Promise,” “Let God Surprise You” and “Heavenly Crowns.” She is a graduate of Berry High School (now Hoover High School) and Jacksonville State University.

Whitestone, 46, has lived in Georgia for over two decades, having moved there after marrying her husband, John McCallum. She and John met when they were both serving as aides to then-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA). John ran unsuccessfully for Congress himself in 2014. She and her husband have three children.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01), former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville and State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) are the credible candidates who have formally announced Republican candidacies to unseat Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) thus far.

Unsuccessful 2017 Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore will announce Thursday at 2:00 p.m. in Montgomery whether he will join that field.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is expected to make an announcement on his potential Senate bid next week after filing his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.

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