2 years 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

8 hours ago

‘The Bama’ at KBC restaurant is one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama

KBC are the initials of Kelsey Bernard Clark, the winner of the 16th season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and the chef and owner of KBC restaurant in Dothan.

What began as a butcher shop and grocery evolved into a restaurant based largely on the popularity of the sandwiches Clark started serving customers.

“Some of the sandwiches on our menu are named after people and The Bama was actually named after my mother-in-law, who is known by her grandchildren as ‘Bama,’” Clark said.

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The Bama at KBC in Dothan is one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Bama sports pimento cheese, thick slices of tomatoes and crispy bacon. It’s about as Southern a sandwich as you can get and is so delectable it has made its way onto the Alabama Tourism Department’s list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.

With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, KBC tried curbside service but Clark said it wasn’t as fulfilling as the experience of dining in the restaurant. So, KBC stopped doing curbside until the dining rooms were allowed to reopen under new guidelines. She said KBC is operating well and safely under the new rules and business is good again.

And The Bama is as popular as ever.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

15 hours ago

Coach Bill Clark: UAB ready for football season preparations to start

UAB football coach Bill Clark is like many fans who are waiting for a clear sign that the college football season is on the horizon this year.

With less than 90 days until the start of the season, that sign will be next week when UAB players report for voluntary individual workouts and training. Clark said that will progress into the more familiar pre-season camp between now and August.

“I’m excited to get them back, even in small numbers right now,” Clark said.

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Coach Bill Clark: UAB ready for football season preparations from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

It’s been a challenging few months for everyone because of the COVID-19 pandemic and football was not immune. It eliminated the normal spring training and spring football scrimmages for all collegiate teams, and officials from all schools and conferences have been weighing whether and how to proceed with preparations for a season that at one time seemed uncertain.

Clark said he is confident the plan UAB has in place is a good one and he has one of the premier institutions to draw on for medical expertise.

“Rule No. 1 has always been athlete safety, so this is not something new for us,” Clark said. “Obviously, the COVID crisis was something new for us to deal with. The support of our athletic trainers obviously being at UAB with the medical school helps.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

15 hours ago

Hero German Shepherd from Alabama vies to be country’s top dog in American Humane contest

A mom’s reaction to being reunited with her lost child – found by Küsse, a German Shepherd rescue dog – was to smother both with kisses and hugs.

Indeed, the name Küsse – German for “kisses” – fits Corey Speegle’s rescue dog to a “T.” With her innate ability to find lost people, Küsse has earned huge praise during her short career.

Nearly half a million dog lovers across the country have cast their votes for Küsse, one of three semifinalists for the American Humane Hero Dog prize in the Search and Rescue category. Other categories include Therapy Dogs; Service Dogs; Military Dogs; Law Enforcement Dogs; Shelter Dogs; and Guide/Hearing Dogs.

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Küsse and Speegle live in Sheffield, Alabama, and she’s the only dog representing the Yellowhammer State. Supporters can vote for Küsse once a day through July 16.

Training the nation’s ‘top dog’ 

Speegle got Küsse as a pup and began training her at a year old. Küsse’s innate ability to find individuals has primed her to win the national contest this fall, which concludes with a gala and a two-hour special on the Hallmark Channel.

“Küsse is a beautiful dog, and she loves to serve and help find missing people,” said Speegle, state coordinator for the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons and a volunteer firefighter for Spring Valley and White Oak Volunteer Fire departments. “Her mother is a German Shepherd from the Czech Republic and the father is a second-generation explosives dog out of Fort Hood, Texas.”

Speegle has trained with the Federal Emergency Management Association, and he and Küsse have completed numerous search and rescue classes.

“I’ve taken advanced building search classes through detection services, and I’ve had boat training to locate bodies in the water,” Speegle said.

He’s accustomed to receiving calls for help from Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson. On March 4, Speegle and Küsse were called to work search and reconnaissance efforts in Cookeville, Tennessee, after a powerful EF4 tornado decimated the town in the early morning. Cookeville is the county seat of Putnam County, 79 miles east of Nashville.

“Küsse and I worked for hours on end to help find survivors and bring closure to families with missing loved ones,” said Speegle, who volunteers with the White Oak Volunteer Fire Department’s K-9 Search and Rescue crew. The team also uses highly trained cadaver dogs.

“It was like a bomb went off there,” he said. “We stayed until the last person was accounted for – it wasn’t pretty, as you can imagine.” Despite their round-the-clock search March 4-6, Küsse and Speegle found no survivors among the 27 people missing.

Speegle trained Küsse with the “recall/refind” method.

“I say, ‘show me,’ and she will return to me and lead me to the person,” he said. “When she finds somebody, she gets her purple kong wubba, her favorite toy in the whole world.”

“The new thinking is you don’t want the dog to bark at someone and scare them, so she’s trained to find them and, depending on the distance, she returns to me and makes me know she found them,” he said.

Speegle uses a handheld detection module linked to Küsse’s GPS-monitored collar, which can track her up to 9 miles.

“Occasionally, with small children, the dog won’t leave the child,” he said. “It will lay down and stay with the subject, so we can still track where the dog is.

“She also does scent article finds,” Speegle said. “Küsse locates a person using a scent article – a sock, hat or shirt, for instance.

“Küsse will work on- or off-lead,” he said. “If you have someone lost in a national forest, she can use that scent to find them.”

Küsse recently helped in the search for a 20-year-old marathon runner from Colbert County near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, whose family reported him missing.

“He’d gone running in the evening and it had stormed all night,” Speegle said. “We tracked him 200 to 300 yards but Küsse lost his scent because of the rain. But she assisted law enforcement to go in the right direction to find him.”

Using video, the sheriff tracked the man’s run. The marathoner had been caught in the storm and sheltered overnight in the field house at Muscle Shoals High School. He borrowed a phone the next morning to call his parents.

Honoring the past at LaGrange Cemetery

Colbert County Commissioner Darol Bendall asked Speegle to locate unmarked historic graves at the historic LaGrange Cemetery in Leighton, Alabama. He and Küsse volunteered a weekend in April.

“The descendants would like to know where they’re at – it’s rough terrain,” said Speegle, who assisted other members of the LaGrange Living History Association. “There are probably 100 graves that are unaccounted for, some of which date to 1815.”

The project was an excellent training opportunity. Speegle, Küsse and his other dogs located nine lost gravesites. During the years, headstones for a man and his wife, dating to the 1800s, had been moved about 50 yards from their resting place. Volunteers reset the headstones properly. Other graves were found outside the cemetery.

“My cadaver dog found an unmarked grave in a wooded area,” he said.

During the work, a volunteer’s child went missing.

“This little 6-year-old girl had wandered off 200 to 300 yards,” Speegle said. “Küsse found her at the back of the cemetery, at the wood line. It was a little scary for all of us.”

Speegle finds a lot of satisfaction in helping others.

“There was no happy ending in Tennessee, but finding the little girl was a good one,” he said. “Küsse is at the beginning of her career. I hope she serves her community well. If she wins in her overall category, I will be one proud daddy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Florists decorate Birmingham Rotary Trail in an act of beauty and healing

Flowers bring joy, and they can heal the soul.

On Friday morning about 25 florists joined in decorating the Rotary Trail in Birmingham. As a beautiful start to the weekend, said Cameron Pappas, florists swathed the trail in greenery, roses and colorful blooms of all sorts. People even brought flowers from their yards.

The effort was to bring “light and joy” to Birmingham residents. And the 46-foot-tall sign with the words “Rotary Trail in the Magic City” was the perfect place to begin.

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“I was laying in bed Sunday night, watching these scenes unfold where Birmingham was in chaos. Seeing this was so sad,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist in Birmingham.

When Carolyn Chen called Pappas later, an idea was born. The owner of Wild Things Flowers & Curiosities in Homewood, Chen thought that decorating the entrance of the Rotary Trail could be a start to bringing emotional healing to the Magic City.

Area florists put Birmingham’s Rotary Trail in full bloom from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Random acts of botany

“Carolyn wanted to figure out how to help the city heal after this past weekend and the coronavirus,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist for more than four years. Between the two, giving flowers in a difficult time is a natural response: “Flowers bring joy. Whether it’s a sad time like a funeral or a happy occasion like a birthday, flowers bring happiness,” he said.

Pappas and Chen invited more than 50 florists from a 40-mile area around the city to help. Three wholesale flower distributors in Birmingham – DavisR&W Wholesale Inc. and Hall’s Birmingham Wholesale Florist – donated flowers and greenery.

“It’s cool to have everyone in an industry come together,” he said. “We want to make people happy, and give them something to look at besides broken glass and boarded up windows.”

What started as a simple gesture bloomed into something memorable. Several of the participating florists were livestreaming to Facebook. Several people from outside of Birmingham saw the videos and posts on social media, and came to take their own pictures.

Pappas said that seeing people join together to help was an amazing sight.

“People were cutting flowers, using their talents to help,” he said. “Everyone was busy beautifying the Rotary Trail with one thought: We love Birmingham. We love this city and our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

17 hours ago

Auburn University expert discusses COVID-19’s impact on sales projections, consumer costs

Brian Gibson, the Wilson Family Professor and executive director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation in Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, recently commented on the impact of coronavirus on sales projections for retailers and suppliers, how supply chains are adapting and how consumer costs will be affected.

Gibson leads multiple industry studies, including the Logistics 2030 project, the annual State of the Retail Supply Chain Report and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ talent management project. He has published numerous articles in supply chain journals, co-wrote “The Definitive Guide to Integrated Supply Chain Management” and co-produces the “Supply Chain Essentials” video series.

Q: How is coronavirus affecting sales projections for retailers and suppliers?

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Gibson: The COVID-19 pandemic has created quite the challenge in the retail sector. U.S. retail sales plunged nearly 9 percent in March as shoppers began to follow shelter-in-place measures. The situation has created a “Tale of Two Cities” scenario. For many retailers it has been the worst of times, with all stores closed due to state government emergency orders. Small retailers lacking the resources to support online selling, and large discounters like TJ Maxx and Ross Stores with minimal e-commerce operations are generating no sales. Retailers with a large online presence are generating e-commerce sales, but it is not enough to make up the loss of in-store revenues. Only the small group of retailers selling essential products like groceries and household goods items are in the best-of-times category, relatively speaking. In March, Kroger and Walmart experienced double-digit growth of same-store sales due to consumers stocking up on essentials. AmazonCostcoTarget and other select retailers also generated higher revenues.

The situation is much the same for suppliers. It all depends on the type of product being produced. Manufacturers of essential food, paper and cleaning products are working overtime to handle demand surges. In contrast, the apparel and automobile industries are largely shut down due to lack of demand, key parts or available labor. Some of these companies are now making personal protective equipment, ventilators and other necessary products that are in short supply.

Q: How have coronavirus-affected supply chains adapted to this situation?

Gibson: The news headlines and stories certainly paint a bleak picture of a broken supply chain that is plagued by product shortages. The reality is that there is no single supply chain. Products flow through different channels from their raw material sources to manufacturers to retailers and distributors. As consumption patterns for certain products have spiked to historic highs, there have been temporary shortages while companies work to restock their inventories. It is an ongoing challenge. If a meat processor shuts down for two weeks, that link in the supply chain is broken temporarily, but the whole supply chain is not broken.

Supply chains are resilient; they bend but typically don’t break. Adjustments are being made by companies to continue serving demand. Distribution centers and grocery stores are working overtime to fulfill orders. Product is being redirected from commercial channels to consumer channels. Production lines are being modified and alternate sources of supply are being tapped to alleviate inventory shortages. Collectively, these solutions from organizations along the supply chain will bring supply and demand back into sync.

Q: Will supply chain costs increase and, thus, increase the cost of consumer goods?

Gibson: Without question, supply chain costs are rising. Retailers are paying front-line store and distribution center associates an hourly wage premium. It costs more to fill and deliver an e-commerce order than to have consumers do their own shopping. Facilities are going through expensive deep-cleaning protocols on a regular basis. And the cost of some commodities is rising. It’s logical to expect that some of these costs will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher product prices. How much they will go up and for how long is the tricky question.

Q: Will we see changes in supply chains and will this actually help certain companies?

Gibson: In the wake of COVID-19 disruptions, “Massive Shifts in Supply Chains Forthcoming” is a popular headline but one that is almost clickbait status. Change will happen, but in a more methodical and incremental fashion than is currently being predicted by pundits. Production will continue to shift from China to other low-cost countries. We will possibly see more domestic production with flexible capacity built in. Some companies will increase safety stock inventories of key materials. And companies will likely cultivate additional strategic supplier relationships. Companies that succeed with these initiatives will achieve greater supply chain agility and resiliency without dramatically increasing their costs. They will be the ultimate winners.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)