In 251 days, Alabama voters will cast their ballots to determine the winners of the 2020 primary election.
The big prize for the 2020 General Election is the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Doug Jones.
Whoever wins the Republican primary should handily defeat Jones, but with former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore entering the contest, that outcome is no longer inevitable.
In “Ruby Red” Alabama, elections are won in the primary. The only exception was the 2017 special election, when Jones bested Moore to become the first Democratic U.S. senator from the state in over two decades.
Nationally, Republican leaders are already denouncing Moore, but that only emboldens Moore and his supporters who relish their independent outsider status.
The Republican upper echelon in Alabama remain mostly silent on Moore’s campaign, but as endorsements roll in, Moore will be the odd-man-out, though endorsements rarely turn elections.
State Republican leaders are not known for their courage, so it remains to be seen who will voice opposition to Moore’s Senate bid.
Shouting against Moore doesn’t hurt him, saying he is unelectable or unfit is also ineffective.
In a field of Lilliputians, Moore is Gulliver.
His followers are defiantly determined to right what they perceive as wrongs committed during the 2017 special election by elite establishment types.
Moore routinely pulls 30 to 33 percent of the vote in a primary, which means in a field of six declared candidates it is unlikely that any one individual will capture 51 percent of the vote.
Moore is running a revenge campaign, and his vendetta against GOP insiders is fuel for his followers.
Jones didn’t beat Moore, the media did with wall-to-wall coverage of 30-year-old allegations. Media outlets may remind voters of the serious accusations against Moore, but the effect is diminished by time and a rapid decline in base-Republican voters’ trust in news reporting.
Hints that former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions may clear the field is more of a wish than a reality. Sessions would be formidable, but does he need the headache?
Congressman Bradley Byrne, State Rep. Arnold Mooney, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, businessman Stanley Adair and Secretary of State John Merrill all may be good candidates, but will the crowded field enable Moore to emerge victoriously?
In all likelihood, there will be a runoff — one that will further divide the state.
The easiest way to stop Moore is for GOP power brokers to pick a candidate now and stealthily back that individual in the primary.
Byrne, Mooney, Tuberville, Adair and Merrill all have better than even odds at trouncing Jones, but as always, Moore is the wild card.
Saying Moore can’t win doesn’t make it so and neither does endless analysis or hand-wringing.
Moore can win, so can Jones. The primary may be the defining event.