Many in the political/pundit class are hailing Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama’s Senate GOP Primary run-off as a victory for the anti-establishment and insurgent forces in the party. It only reinforced such a view when earlier this week Bob Corker resigned. But, the reality, is far from what most pundits recognize. The truth is the election was an “Alabama thing” and little else.
I have a name for you, Robert Bentley. That is who this election was really about. The former Governor who used taxpayer money to hide an extramarital affair cast a wide shadow over the primary. Is it any wonder the guy he appointed to the Senate then lost in a primary?
Let’s back up for a second here. If you did not know who Robert Bentley was he was the former second term Governor of Alabama. Bentley had a stellar record and was widely liked in party circles until it broke he had used taxpayer money to hide an extramarital affair.
The Attorney General investigating him at the time, none other than Luther Strange, was soon appointed to US AG Jeff Session’s open Senate seat. The entire process stunk and it only grew worse when soon after being appointed, Strange said he had never been investigating Bentley. Um, except the House of Representatives held off impeaching Bentley because you asked them to for your investigation.
Ultimately, Bentley stepped down and was replaced by his Lt. Governor Kay Ivey. A special election needed to be held to finish out all of Session’s Senate term and Strange and his allies wanted it to coincide with the 2018 midterms. Instead, owing nothing to the good ole boys of yesteryear, Ivey called the special for December, which meant primaries over the summer.
Unsurprisingly, Strange had the backing of McConnell and leadership. McConnell has made clear he backs incumbents over challengers. Though he had hinted he would jump into the race it was still a bit of a surprise when Moore got in. The former state Supreme Court Justice had a colorful history of being elected on the court until 2002, when he was removed. In 2012, he ran and won back a spot on the court and openly defied the US Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage. The last Republican with any standing to enter was Mo Brooks.
Brooks finished third in the initial primary, unsurprisingly as Moore and Strange finished first and second. McConnell’s PAC spent millions attacking Moore but at the end of the day as much as some conservatives detested Moore they could not get over Strange’s appointment to the Senate. It stank of a political pro quo. As a result, Moore won the runoff last week with 55 percent of the vote.
The irony here is that if Strange had simply run in the primary and not been appointed to the seat by Bentley he probably would have won the election. Unlike Moore, Strange is well-liked and does not have the controversial streak of Moore. But elections are about more than who you like best (just ask Al Gore).
It’s a stretch to say Moore’s victory puts the seat in play but a new poll did put him ahead by only five points. Still, for this seat to really be competitive Moore would probably have to lose a significant contingent of his base and it is hard to see that happening now if it hasn’t already.