By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
The main Republican Super PAC that bolstered Sen. Luther Strange’s primary bid won’t be wading into the competition between Chief Justice Roy Moore and his Democratic challenger, Doug Jones — at least, not just yet.
The Senate Leadership Fund — a PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-Ky., and Republican leadership in the Senate — is believed to have spent between $8 – 9 million in the Alabama primary over the past few months in an attempt to prop up Strange and his campaign.
Now the PAC and its establishment backers, reeling from the loss to Moore’s outsider campaign, might be attempting to save money by leaving Moore out to dry in the election that will determine Jeff Session’s successor.
An SLF spokesperson said Tuesday, the PAC is not spending money in the race between Moore and Jones and has no plans to yet. But he said the PAC is still supporting Moore.
“First of all, we hope those who helped Moore in the primary will stay focused on keeping this seat in Republican hands,” said SLF spokesman Chris Pack. “In terms of spending, we’re monitoring the race closely to see if Democrats demonstrate this is actually a race.”
Pack pointed to the SLF’s statement on election night after conceding to Moore’s victory.
“While we were honored to have fought hard for Big Luther, Judge Roy Moore won this nomination fair and square and he has our support, as it is vital that we keep this seat in Republican hands,” the PAC’s CEO and president, Steven Law, said.
The SLF has a record of backing establishment candidates that fit into McConnell’s mold, and it isn’t clear Moore would want the PAC’s support even if they offered it. In the months leading up to last month’s primary runoff between Moore and Strange, the SLF spent millions attacking Moore and primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks.
Most of the money spent by the SLF was negative against Moore and Brooks — two candidates who establishment-Republicans, including McConnell, believed might bring the Senate agenda to a grinding halt. Only a small portion of the money spent by SLF was actually in messages in support of Strange.
The Senate Leadership Fund’s news webpage still boasts more than a dozen negative releases about Moore and several others about Brooks, who remains a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The SLF may need to save money heading into the 2018 midterm elections as several vulnerable Republicans in states like Nevada, North Dakota and Arizona may face viable challenges from Democratic opponents and populist Republican candidates, alike. A statewide election in a red state like Alabama — where a Democrat hasn’t been elected to the Senate since former U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin was re-elected in 1990 — is reportedly not at the top of the priority list for Republican funders who want to keep the Senate under McConnell’s leadership.
But recent polls have Jones, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted two Klansmen for their involvement in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church Bombings, polling within single digits of Moore, a longtime staple in Alabama politics with near-universal name recognition.
Jones’ campaign spokesman had no comment on the SLF’s decision to stay out of the race but said his campaign is confident it can compete with Moore and even win.
“We will have the resources necessary to run this race and are seeing a lot of momentum in support from across the state including from Republicans, in the more than 3,000 volunteers who have signed up, and in fundraising,” said Jones’ spokesman, Sebastian Kitchen.
And while Moore has had trouble finding friends in Washington, Jones has not, seeing backing from national Democratic figures like former vice presidential candidate and Virginia senator, Tim Kaine, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who traveled to Birmingham last week to stump for Jones.
Jones and Moore will face off in the special election on Dec. 12.