Control of the U.S. Senate after 2020 is a really big deal. Republicans could help consolidate their hold on the federal judiciary for generations to come if Trump is reelected and they have enough senators to rubber-stamp his nominations. And obviously if there is a new Democratic president, she or he could really use Senate control to confirm appointments and enact legislation. Republicans currently have a three-seat majority in the upper chamber, and though they have many more seats at risk in 2020, including some vulnerable incumbents, they have no senators who are sitting ducks.
But Republicans do think of Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama as a sitting duck, or at least as an accidental senator who won a 2017 special election with smoke, mirrors, a world-class turnout operation, and the great luck of opposing Judge Roy Moore, a career wild man whose rocky judicial career and theocratic views were aggravated by serious allegations of sexually predatory behavior toward very young women.
The good news for Jones is that Moore is seriously considering another Senate run. And the first major poll of GOP and general-election voters in Alabama shows the man who once hauled a sculpture of the Ten Commandments around on the back of a pickup truck is leading the potential field of Republicans.
The reputable Mason-Dixon polling outfit tested Moore against declared candidate U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne and two of his House colleagues who haven’t announced but are being urged to run, Mo Brooks and Gary Palmer. Moore had 27 percent, Brooks 18 percent, Byrne 13 percent, and Palmer 11 percent (two other possible candidates were in the low single digits). The poll did not include former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, who recently indicated he would likely run.
The poll didn’t directly test any of these birds against Jones, though among all registered voters in the survey, his “reelect” number was a vulnerable 40 percent, while his approval/disapproval ratio was a meh 45/44.
While no one in or near the field can match Moore’s ancient right-wing street cred and hard-core constituency of Christian-right loyalists, some of them are no ideological slouches, either. Brooks, who ran third to Moore and appointed Senator Luther Strange (whom Moore defeated in a runoff) in 2017, recently drew attention to himself by comparing Democrats to Hitler’s Nazis (they are both subcategories of “socialists,” you see). Palmer was the longtime president of a right-wing think tank and is a stalwart member of the House Freedom Caucus. Byrne is a standard-brand-conservative Trump loyalist and the least exotic figure considering a Senate run, which is likely a problem for him. No one knows what kind of candidate Tuberville might be; he’s probably best known for coaching in one of the most boring games in recent college-football history, a 3–2 Auburn win over Mississippi State. Here’s what he had to say in a recent interview:
“I’m worried for this country if we keep going left,” he said. “We don’t have a Democratic Party anymore. All you have to do is look to see what direction they want to take that. That’s the reason we have to fill this seat in the Senate with a Republican in the state of Alabama with Christian values and get away from all the crazy stuff they are trying to do. We need to support our Constitution and our rights. We have to get law and order back. I can’t believe the party on the left is against law and order. My gosh, what are we doing in this country?”
You can tell Tuberville’s a political novice because he referred to the “Democratic” Party, not the “Democrat” or “Democrat Socialist” Party. But he’s reportedly got former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer coaching him, so he probably won’t make that mistake again.
Speaking of Trump, the president is likely to get involved in the Alabama race, though it’s unclear how and when. His 2017 support for Strange, damaged goods because of suspicions that he’d gotten his seat in a corrupt deal with Governor Robert Bentley, who later resigned, was clearly a mistake. The president eventually supported Moore after he became the GOP nominee, and that didn’t work out too well. Brooks is one of those conservatives who said nasty things about Trump when backing Ted Cruz in 2016. Byrne has a similar POTUS problem, having called on Trump to withdraw after the Access Hollywood tape came out. At one point, there was even serious talk of Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, the Trumpiest House member of them all, crossing the state line and running against Jones, but then Gaetz took a pass.
As for Moore, he apparently feels he’s been vindicated by the failure of those who accused him of sexual assault and other misconduct to get him hauled off to the slammer (he’s in a battle of dueling defamation claims against Leigh Corfman, the woman who claimed Moore sexually abused her when she was 14) and believes that without those accusations he would have beaten Jones. The Mason-Dixon poll shows Moore has almost universal name ID, more of it positive or neutral than negative, while nearly half of the Republicans surveyed didn’t recognize Byrne’s name — not a great sign for him given that he made it as far as a GOP runoff (losing to Bentley) in a gubernatorial bid back in 2010. By any conventional standard, you’d figure Moore would never survive a 2020 runoff (Alabama requires a majority for party nominations) against any of his opponents, since he blew the 2017 race and probably won’t face a runoff opponent who is as weak as Strange.
But this is Alabama, a place where Moore is still a revered figure among conservatives after twice being knocked off the state Supreme Court on ethics charges and generally making a spectacle of himself for decades. Anything could happen among Republicans, and after that you can be sure that Democrats will give Jones anything he needs for his reelection campaign. And unless something dramatic changes between now and November of next year, most of the voters who put Jones into office to begin with will be super-energized to return to the polls to smite Trump, if only by denying him a Senate seat.