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Shelby Declines McConnell Debate Invitation

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

In 1986, US Representative Richard Shelby (D-Tuscaloosa) narrowly unseated first term incumbent US Senator Jeremiah Denton (R).  This was the last time that Shelby would face a credible opponent.  He was re-elected in 1992 as a Democrat.  He was re-elected in 1998 as a Republican and again in 2004 and 2010.  In 2014 Senator Jeff Sessions was re-elected without any opposition.  No Democrat or Republican would dare challenge the popular incumbent from Alabama.

But, for some reason this election is different.  Senator Shelby, perhaps due to his advanced age (81), has drawn a whole host of challengers from both political parties.

One of the Republican challengers, Jonathan McConnell, sent Sen. Shelby a letter on Wednesday challenging the Senator to a series of televised debates.

McConnell wrote in a letter: “Recently your campaign spokeswoman told reporters you would be happy to lay your record out for all Alabamians to see.  Today, I am taking you up on that offer on behalf of myself and all conservative Alabama Republicans.  To further educate Alabama about the substantive differences between the two of us, I invite you to participate in a series of televised policy debates across the state of Alabama.   My campaign will clear the schedule for any day that is most convenient for you, and will work with your staff to find a panel of neutral moderators.”

McConnell made no mention of the other three Republicans and two Democrats running for the office getting a spot in these debates.

Sen. Shelby declined to debate McConnell.

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McConnell told supporters in an email Wednesday morning. “Over the last 37 years Shelby has been in Washington D.C., our national debt has increased from $700 billion to nearly $19 trillion while he has massively grown his personal wealth and shuttled at least $250 million to his former staffers.”

McConnell said that Sen. Shelby, “Stood with Obama, confirming Hillary Clinton and John Kerry for Secretary of State, and supported Bill Clinton’s liberal judges like Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Supreme Court. He earned a ‘D’ Liberty score, opposes term limits, and raised the debt ceiling 20 times. Enough!”

The Alabama Media Group is reporting that Jonathan McConnell’s campaign could face potential penalties of up to $10,000 from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) if it finds that McConnell was knowingly and willfully late in sending the statement of organization to the FEC.

On Tuesday, January 19 the McConnell campaign laid out what they believe is a path to victory for the former Marine Corps Captain who owns a maritime security company.  Campaign consultant James Harris claimed that McConnell is positioned to shock the political world on March 1st because: he is a political outsider status, a Marine combat veteran and successful small business owner; they claim that Shelby’s 37-year career in Washington politics has enriched himself and his lobbyist buddies with millions of dollars in pork; and that we are in an anti-establishment environment, fueled by the GOP presidential primary.

Harris said that this race is winnable if they can hold Shelby under 50 percent in the primary, forcing a runoff between Senator Shelby and McConnell.  They argue that as their message gets out more voters switch their support from Shelby to McConnell.

According to the McConnell’s campaign, GOP outsiders are running away with Alabama in the GOP Primary race.  They have Trump at 46 percent followed by Cruz with 21 percent of the vote.  The McConnell campaign is hoping that those anti-GOP establishment Trump, Cruz, and Carson voters vote for McConnell.  Shelby has an enormous advantage in available money, which he is using to mount an aggressive media and direct mail blitz.

McConnell and Shelby are joined in the March 1, Republican Primary by former Army Ranger John Martin, Marcus Bowman, and former State Senator Shadrack McGill.

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The winner of the Republican Primary will have to face either Ron Crumpton or Charles Nana in the November general election.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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