By Steve Flowers
Inside the State House
Folks we are getting down to the proverbial lick log in the much-anticipated vote for the open U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. After 20 years in the U.S. Senate as our junior U.S. Senator, Sessions left to become Donald Trump’s Attorney General. He probably regrets this decision.
When the race began it looked like a Roy Moore vs. Luther Strange race. However, the third outside horse emerged about a month ago. Tennessee Valley Congressman, Mo Brooks, got a $2 million bump from the shooting he endured while a member of the Republican baseball team. He seized the moment and Mo’s momentum gave him the “Big Mo.”
About three weeks ago it looked like a three man race between Moore, Strange and Brooks. However, the Washington beltway consultants, pollsters, and media experts supporting Strange poured a ton of money into stopping Mo’s momentum with negative ads designed to thwart his catching Luther and ousting him from the runoff. Recent polls indicate that it has worked.
The latest polls indicate a one-two finish between Moore and Strange. Strange’s Washington pollsters tout that he may finish in first place ahead of Moore. Money talks and it is the mother’s milk of politics.
State Senator Trip Pittman will do better than some experts expect. Watch for him to get a good hometown vote in Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
Moore’s support has never diminished. It consistently hovers around 30 percent, even with his inability to raise or spend much money. On the other hand, Luther Strange’s supporters have spent $3 – $5 million. The Bentley appointment has been a tremendous albatross for Luther. Turnout is critical. Luther Strange would benefit from a large turnout among upscale Jefferson/Shelby metro voters. Mo Brooks hopes may ride on a large turnout in the Tennessee Valley.
Strange’s and Moore’s odds are enhanced by the short window that the race was run. Strange’s chances have been boosted by the endorsement of Alfa. This conservative group’s endorsement carries a lot of weight.
When Luther took the tainted nomination from Robert Bentley six months ago, he was told that he would have two years before he would run. Under that scenario, his bet that a ton of money would be all he would need to keep the seat was a good bet. However, when Governor Kay Ivey changed that election to this year the scenario changed dramatically.
If Luther were running in 2018 there would be 60 races on the ballot with a record 300 names to choose from. The average voter, who could not care less who the junior U.S. Senator is anyway, will also be voting for State Senator, State Representative, Sheriff, Probate Judge, Circuit Judge, District Judge, five seats on the State Supreme Court, along with a spirited Chief Justice contest, State Auditor, State Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner, an open contested Attorney General race, an open contested Lt. Governor’s race, and one of the most crowded Governor’s races in state history that may well attract 10 viable candidates.
The millions spent to elect Luther Strange would have been overwhelming. Folks would have walked into the booth and voted for the only name they knew. However, this is the only race in town. The people who show up to vote will know the score. With the election being August 15 and it being the only race, there will be a low turnout. Also, any money spent for negative attacks will generally drive down the voter turnout.
All indications point to a low voter turnout, which helps Moore. He began with 30 percent and they have not gone anywhere. His 30 percent will vote and the lower the turnout, the higher percentage that 30 percent becomes. Moore’s folks will not be at the lake or beach or deterred by the August heat. They are ardent and they will vote.
Remember a poll is a picture of the total electorate. The final poll and the one that counts is the count of votes of those who actually show up to vote next Tuesday.
We will see.
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.