Notorious Alabama judge Roy Moore launches primary challenge against Luther Strange


AL-Sen: Roy Moore, who was suspended as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court last year for defying federal court orders regarding same-sex marriage, announced on Wednesday that he would challenge appointed Sen. Luther Strange in this August’s GOP primary ahead of December’s special election.

Moore has made it plain that he plans to rally his religious conservative base. Last week, after the state’s high court upheld his suspension for the rest of his term, Moore cast himself as a martyr, arguing that the case against him “was a politically motivated effort by the Judicial Inquiry Commission and certain homosexual and transgendered groups to remove me from office because of my steadfast opposition to same-sex marriage.” For good measure, Moore argued at his campaign kickoff that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention public education, and that schools are “used as an indoctrination of our children.”

Back in 2003, Moore was also kicked off the bench after he refused to comply with a federal judge’s order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the state Supreme Court. For a while after that, Moore’s political career stalled. In 2006, he challenged Gov. Bob Riley in the Republican primary and lost 67-33. Then, in 2010, Moore ran to succeed the termed-out Riley, taking just 19 percent in that year’s primary, enough for a weak fourth-place finish.

Moore even flirted with a 2012 presidential bid, but he decided to run for his old spot as chief justice again instead. Moore took just over 50 percent against two primary opponents, allowing him to win without a runoff. However, he struggled in the general election, beating his Democratic foe by just a slim 52-48 margin even as Mitt Romney was winning Alabama 61-38. Still, Moore was finally back—and he quickly made waves once again.

In early 2016, months after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Moore told state probate judges that they “have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary” to Alabama’s now-defunct law banning it. The state’s Court of the Judiciary unanimously voted to suspend Moore from office for the remainder of his term as a result. State law already prevented Moore from running for re-election in 2018 because of his age, so this decision effectively banned him from the court for life.

But those age limits don’t prevent the 70-year-old Moore from running for the Senate, and his suspension seems to have only helped him politically in the long run. Alabama is rarely polled, but last month, local political columnist Steve Flowers wrote that unreleased surveys showed that Moore’s suspension “has propelled him to stratospheric levels in polling.” Still, Moore does have his enemies within the state GOP. The Montgomery Advertiser‘s Brian Lyman notes that as chief justice, Moore ruled against the Business Council of Alabama, and the group refused to back him in 2012 when he sought to return to the bench (perhaps explaining his narrow victory).

Moore’s campaign comes during a chaotic period in Alabama politics. A few months ago, after Donald Trump nominated Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to become U.S. attorney general, Moore was one of several Republicans who was interviewed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley for an appointment to take Sessions’ place in the Senate. The job ended up going to Strange, who at the time was state attorney general. However, Strange’s office was investigating Bentley for covering up a sex scandal, and his decision to take a job from the governor infuriated plenty of people who felt the whole affair looked dirty. Bentley ended up resigning in disgrace earlier this month, and Kay Ivey, the new governor, rescheduled the special election from 2018 to December of 2017.

Both parties will hold their primaries Aug. 15, and in contests where no one takes a majority, there will be a runoff Sept. 26. The filing deadline isn’t until May 17, and several Republicans had already entered the race before Moore made his move. State Rep. Ed Henry, who led the charge to impeach Bentley before the governor quit earlier this month, entered the race almost immediately after Ivey moved the date up.

Meanwhile, gastroenterologist Randy Brinson recently stepped down as head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama to run, and ex-state Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. has formed an exploratory committee. Wealthy state Senate leader Del Marsh also claims he’s made up his mind about a bid, but isn’t ready to announce yet.  A number of other Republicans, including three of the state’s six GOP House members, also haven’t ruled out running, so this could all lead to a very unpredictable primary.

However, the well-known Moore may have the best chance to at least reach the runoff—perhaps even better than Strange. In addition to his sketchy dealings with the disgraced Bentley, Strange upset other Republicans as state attorney general when his office successfully prosecuted then-state House Speaker Mike Hubbard. The National Journal recently wrote that some of Hubbard’s allies are interested in using the primary to exact their revenge against Strange. But Strange does have incumbency on his side, as well as the endorsement of the Senate Leadership Fund, a well-funded super PAC with close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

As for the general election, Alabama is one of the reddest states in the nation, and any Democratic nominee will have an incredibly tough time winning in December. Still, as Scott Brown’s 2010 win in deep blue Massachusetts demonstrated, odd things can happen when the political winds are blowing against the president’s party, and a bloody GOP primary could only make things more unpredictable. Moore’s weak 2012 general election win may also be a sign that a significant number of conservative voters would be open to voting against him if he’s the GOP nominee.

The strongest possible Democratic candidate may be Walt Maddox, the mayor of Tuscaloosa. Maddox ruled out a Senate bid earlier this month, but he may be reconsidering. On Tuesday, Maddox was asked if he was interested in running for governor in 2018 or for the Senate in 2017, and he offered up an identical “[i]t’s certainly a possibility” reply for both. If he were interested, Maddox could run for the Senate and quickly transition to a gubernatorial campaign if he lost. State Rep. Chris England also isn’t ruling out a run for the Senate.

And while oddly timed special elections have generally not been kind toward Democrats, this year, we’ve seen huge levels of Trump-fueled enthusiasm for Democratic candidates in special elections across the country. If anti-Trump anger remains hot, Democrats could benefit from the fact that Alabama’s Senate race will most assuredly be the only one taking place this year.

Gubernatorial

GA-Gov: Shortly after the 2016 elections, former longtime Republican Rep. Jack Kingston refused to rule out running for governor in 2018, but he hasn’t said much to indicate his interest since then, despite frequently appearing in the media as a Trump surrogate. However, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein reports that Kingston “has recently been making the rounds at the [state] capitol” and could be laying the groundwork for a bid. Kingston only narrowly lost the 2014 primary runoff for an open Senate seat, and his base in southern Georgia could give him a major geographic advantage in a crowded primary field. Bluestein also claims that GOP state Sen. Michael Williams is “widely expected to run and already has a campaign in waiting.”

The race to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Nathan Deal has already drawn a great amount of interest from potential candidates within his party. Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state Sen. Hunter Hill are already in the race, while Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is expected to run after he recently filed campaign paperwork, and several other big names could jump in too.

IA-Gov: Longtime Democratic Iowa political operative John Norris previously revealed that he was considering running for governor in 2018, and in a recent interview with Bleeding Heartland, he says that he will likely decide by Memorial Day. Norris once served as chief of staff to Tom Vilsack when the latter was governor and U.S. agriculture secretary, while he’s also reportedly close to former Sen. Tom Harkin’s donor base. Over at Iowa Starting Line, Pat Rynard gives us the name of a new potential candidate after he reports that wealthy businessman and well-connected Democratic donor Fred Hubbell is supposedly considering running.

The Democratic primary is quickly growing crowded, with former state party chair Andy McGuire, ex-Des Moines School Board President Jonathan Neiderbach, and Polk County Conservation Board director Rich Leopold already running. Additionally, state Rep. Todd Prichard, Davenport Alderman Mike Matson, and Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry have all said that they’re considering a bid.

IL-Gov: There are over 500 days until the 2018 general election, but they’ll feature zero days of the Kurt Summers gubernatorial campaign. The Chicago city treasurer announced on Wednesday that he would not run for governor next year and would instead back billionaire investor and fellow Democrat J.B. Pritzker. Summers had released an internal poll in March that argued he was well positioned to grow his support, particularly as potentially the only black candidate, but he may have found it would be too hard to compete with Pritzker and fellow wealthy Democratic businessman Chris Kennedy, who each appear poised to self-fund millions for their campaigns in this very expensive state.

In addition to Pritzker and Kennedy, state Sen. Daniel Biss, Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, and Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber are also running in the primary, while a few other Democrats are also considering it.

MD-Gov: On Wednesday, Baltimore tech entrepreneur Alec Ross became the first prominent Democrat to announce a gubernatorial campaign against Republican Gov. Larry Hogan in 2018. Ross is a novice candidate, but as a former State Department senior advisor for innovation under Hillary Clinton who appears to be well-regarded in state Democratic politics, he could have the connections needed to raise money for what will likely be a tough campaign.

Hogan is currently one of America’s most-popular governors, but Maryland’s blue lean and Donald Trump’s potential to spark a downballot backlash have helped encourage a whole host of other Democrats to consider a bid against him. Prominent attorney Jim Shea has already formed an exploratory committee, while Rep. John Delaney, ex-NAACP president Ben Jealous, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, state Sen. Richard Madaleno, and several others are all considering it.

MN-Gov: Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan had previously stated that he would likely decide on a 2018 gubernatorial bid by the end of April, but now he says that he’s extending that deadline and didn’t give an indication for when he might make up his mind. The Democratic primary to succeed retiring Gov. Mark Dayton is quickly becoming a clown car, and if Nolan hops in, Democrats could have a tough time holding his Iron Range-based 8th District after it swung hard right to 54-39 Trump in 2016. Rep. Tim Walz, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Auditor Rebecca Otto, state Rep. Erin Murphy, and state Rep. Tina Liebling area already running for governor, while several other Democrats might join the race too.

NV-Gov, NV-Sen: Ultra-wealthy businessman and prominent Democratic donor Stephen Cloobeck had previously been mentioned as a potential 2018 Senate candidate, but we can now cross him off the list, since he just endorsed Republican Sen. Dean Heller. Cloobeck even had the gall to say “I believe in Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood, civil rights, and other core principles of the Democratic Party” in his endorsement statement right before going on to praise Heller’s “businesslike approach to politics and legislation,” even though Heller has been a key enabler of a party steadfastly opposed to those very core principles in the Senate.

Cloobeck has been reportedly more seriously considering running for the open governor’s office next year and will supposedly self-fund at least $5 million, but the self-described moderate’s endorsement of Heller could be a huge negative for many Democrats in the primary if he runs. However, if Team Blue wants to field an alternate nominee, someone else will have to step up. No major candidates have joined the primary yet, but Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak is considering it, while several other Democrats have been named as possibilities.

TN-Gov: The contest to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Bill Haslam in this deeply Republican state has drawn heated interest from a slew of Republican candidates, and we can add one more name to the list. On Monday, the communications director for Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett refused to rule out a gubernatorial bid by his boss in 2018, when he faces term limits for his current gig. A staunch conservative, Burchett could appeal to those in the more anti-tax libertarian wing of GOP.

If Burchett runs, he would join Higher Education Commission member Bill Lee and former Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd in the primary. Additionally, state House Speaker Beth Harwell, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, and state Sen. Mae Beavers are all considering, while even U.S. Sen. Bob Corker hasn’t ruled it out.

House

CA-34: Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez has gobbled up the lion’s share of party endorsements ahead of the June 6 all-Democratic general election against former Los Angeles Planning Commissioner Robert Lee Ahn, and he can add one more huge name to the list: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Gomez led Ahn just 28-19 in the early April primary, but his superior party support and the district’s demographics should help make him a strong favorite to win the top-two general election. Ahn performed well with fellow Korean-Americans, who turned out in disproportionate numbers for the primary. However, most of the voters in this dark-blue downtown Los Angeles district are Latinos; like Gomez, most of the defeated Democratic primary candidates also were Latinos.

GA-06: Karen Handel’s careful waltz with Donald Trump just got trickier. Trump will be in Atlanta on Friday, just a few miles from Georgia’s 6th District, for the NRA’s annual convention, but Handel had refused to say whether she’ll appear with President Agent Orange. Now we finally know that she will, since The Donald will headline a “glitzy fundraiser” for Handel after his speech before the rifle association.

That embrace of Trump is a risky one for Handel, since it could help alienate the type of anti-Trump Republicans who’ve formed a key part of Democrat Jon Ossoff’s coalition—and who may have even voted for her in the primary. But she doesn’t have much choice, since the alternative would mean pissing off pro-Trump voters and turning down the cash that Trump can bring in for her, which she sorely needs. Indeed, the Congressional Leadership Fund, which spent heavily to keep Ossoff below 50 percent in the first round, just announced that it would throw in another $3.5 million to help Handel, including $2.5 million for a flight of TV ads starting on May 10. The runoff is June 20.

IA-01: Back in February, Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson didn’t rule out running against Republican Rep. Rod Blum in the 1st District in 2018, but Iowa Starting Line’s Pat Rynard relays that Oleson has now reportedly abandoned his previous interest in a campaign. Containing Dubuque and Cedar Rapids, the 1st swung hard from 56-43 Obama in 2016 to 49-45 Trump in 2016, while Blum won his second term by 54-46 against a touted Democratic recruit, but Team Blue hasn’t given up on ousting him next year. State Rep. Abby Finkenauer has filed paperwork to run while she considers it, and a handful of other Democrats haven’t ruled anything out.

IA-03: The Des Moines and Council Bluffs-based 3rd District backed Donald Trump 49-45 in 2016 after supporting Obama 51-47 four years before, but Iowa Democrats are still optimistic that they can give Republican Rep. David Young a stiff challenge in 2018 after he dispatched a touted challenger last year. Iowa Starting Line reports that Theresa Greenfield, the president of prominent real-estate company Colby Interest, is considering a campaign and will reach a decision in a few months, but there’s no word from Greenfield herself. Although she doesn’t appear to have run for office before, her business connections could be a major fundraising asset.

If she runs, Greenfield won’t have the Democratic field to herself. Attorney Anna Ryon is already running for the nomination, veteran political consultant and former top Bernie Sanders campaign staffer Pete D’Alessandro recently formed an exploratory committee, and state Sen. Matt McCoy is also considering the race.

Legislative

NY State Senate: It looks like one of the most vulnerable members of the IDC—the band of turncoat “Democrats” who’ve handed power to the GOP in New York’s state Senate—is about to get a serious challenger. Former New York City Councilman Robert Jackson has formed a campaign committee for a rematch against state Sen. Marisol Alcantara, who narrowly won last year’s Democratic primary for the 31st Senate District, based on Manhattan’s West Side.

Jackson hasn’t formally announced yet, though a consultant told the Albany Times Union, “Stay tuned.” Last September, with the help of the IDC, Alcantara took 33 percent of the vote in the primary, barely edging both charter schools advocate Micah Lasher, who ended up with 32 percent, and Jackson, who got 31. This time around, Jackson and Lasher had reportedly pledged not to run against one another, so as long as no one else gets in—something Jackson might forestall with this early move—he should have a clean shot at unseating the incumbent.

Alcantara is poised to be the first renegade to earn an intra-party opponent, but she almost certainly won’t be the last. Progressive activists have been channeling newfound fury over Trump into overthrowing the IDC junta, and various branches of the Democratic establishment are finally waking from their torpor to recruit and support challengers to other deserters. Plenty of other names are in circulation, and once Jackson makes the leap, others may be inspired to follow.

Special Elections: On Tuesday night, the GOP easily held on to Connecticut’s vacant 68th State House District, as Republican Joseph Polletta defeated Democrat Louis Esposito by a 78-22 margin. The outcome was exactly as expected, as the 68th is one of the reddest districts in Connecticut, but a bit unusually—for 2017, that is—Republicans ran far ahead of last year’s presidential results, which favored Donald Trump 65-32. But so far, in 11 special elections pitting one Republican versus one Democratic since Trump won, Democrats have exceeded Hillary Clinton’s margins eight times. That’s a big break from the recent past, because typically Democratic turnout has been abysmal in special elections, but Trump has now altered that calculus.

However, another special election over in Connecticut’s 7th State House District saw a completely different outcome. The 7th was actually Clinton’s best district in the entire state—she won it by an incredible 94-4 spread—and Republicans didn’t even bother to field a candidate … but the Democratic candidate still didn’t win! Rather, union official Joshua Hall, running under the banner of the Working Families Party, defeated Democrat Rickey Pinckney, who had broad support from the Hartford political establishment, by a 43-34 margin. A third contender, former Democratic state Rep. Kenneth Green, took 24 percent of the vote as an independent.

All three candidates had sought the Democratic nomination, though, which was awarded at a convention last month, and Hall pledged to join the Democratic caucus in the state House. He’s now the second person to win a legislative seat in Connecticut on the Working Families line: In 2015, Ed Gomes won a state Senate special election in Bridgeport, but he, too, joined the Democrats and is now the chamber’s deputy majority leader.

 

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.

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