INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers
Well folks, the field is set for the sprint to fill the open US Senate seat of Jeff Sessions.
The primary is less than three months away on August 15. There will probably be a run-off on September 26 and the winner of that GOP run-off will be our Junior Senator from Alabama. In the Heart of Dixie, winning the Republican nomination is tantamount to election. The December 12 General Election will be a coronation for the winner of the September 26 Republican primary.
It was an interesting closing day of qualifying last Wednesday. It was unbelievable how many people showed up to qualify. There are eleven candidates running in the Republican primary and amazingly, the Democrats fielded eight candidates. It was like ants coming out of the woodwork. It was similar to our olden days of Alabama politics when everybody and their brother ran for an open governor’s race or a seldom seen open Senate race. We ought to refer to this race as an ant race rather than a horse race.
Of the nineteen candidates, only about five are viable contenders. Therefore, about fourteen of these folks are running for the fun of it. In fact, we use to refer to them as “run for the fun of it” candidates.
The most colorful run for the fun of it candidate in Alabama political history was Ralph “Shorty” Price. Shorty ran for governor every four years. He usually finished last. His slogan was smoke Tampa Nugget cigars, drink Budweiser beer, and vote for Shorty Price. His campaign platform declared that he would change the term of governor from four years to two years. He would say if you are not smart enough to steal enough as governor in two years, you ain’t smart enough to be governor.
My guess is that if someone put Shorty’s name on this August 15 ballot, he would run sixth out of the 12-person GOP field, posthumously. He would probably win the Democratic nomination from the grave. The party leaders were probably glad to see them all show up. The raked in $3,400 a pop from each qualifier.
You wonder what motivates those also ran candidates to put their names on the ballot. Maybe they just want to see their name on the ballot, maybe their Aunt Susie left them $5,000 with the stipulation that they had to use it to run for the US Senate, or they want to tell their grandchildren one day that they ran for the U.S. Senate. They can omit that they ran eleventh. Maybe they won a 4-H speaking contest when they were in school and figured their destiny was to be a US Senator.
It is similar to someone trying to walk on to Bear Bryant’s or Nick Saban’s football team and Bryant or Saban grants them permission to get a uniform if only for a day and try out. That bold soul who had to be hit by John Hannah like a tackling dummy can truthfully say to their grandson, “I played football at Alabama for Bear Bryant.”
Actually, Alabama’s Sixth Congressional Jefferson/Shelby US Representative, Gary Palmer, was elected to Congress by his doing the above thing while in college at Alabama. Some people suspect that his saying he played for Bear Bryant helped propel him to victory when he was elected a few years ago.
Well, let’s give them just due and list them for you. I will list them in order of how I would handicap the field as the race for the Republican nomination begins.
The two frontrunners are Roy Moore, followed by Luther Strange. Congressman Mo Brooks is within striking distance of Big Luther. State Senator Trip Pittman and Dr. Randy Brinson could be players if they come up with $5 million to spend on the race. Right now, they are unknown to more than 95 percent of the electorate. If Mo Brooks can raise and spend $3 million, or if Brinson or Pittman can pony up $5 million, one of these three could probably knock Luther out of the run-off. Roy Moore is in the run-off – he leads the crowded field.
These six brave souls are in for the fun of it. Hopefully, their next-door neighbor or grandmother will vote for them, James Paul Baretta, Joseph Breault, Dom Gentile, Karen Jackson, Mary Maxwell and Bryan Peeples.
Enjoy the race. I will keep you posted. Next week I will analyze and handicap the race in-depth.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the State Legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.