Congressman Bradley Byrne (R – Alabama, District 1) announced a campaign to unseat first-term incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones this afternoon in Mobile, ending more than a year of speculation about his possible candidacy.
“The question is ‘why are you running?’ … Look in Washington and tell me you don’t see a disconnect between your values and the values you see up there,” he said to a crowd of a couple hundred supporters at Wintzell’s Oyster House. “Look at Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”
Byrne has had a House seat since January 2014, including two years during the administration of President Donald Trump when Republicans also controlled both halls of Congress. Without mentioning his opponent by name, Byrne predicted during the announcement, “it’s not going to be an easy race, but the people that presently hold this seat intend to keep it and they will stop at nothing.”
Doug Jones’ unlikely rise to the Senate came after a campaign against scandal-plagued former Chief Justice Roy Moore in 2017. It has long been rumored Byrne would attempt to regain the seat for the Republican Party.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Byrne also acknowledged possible Republican challengers in the primary election and agreed it would probably be the most expensive campaign in state history.
According to the most recent federal campaign finance reports, Byrne For Congress has a little more than $1 million cash on hand, while the Doug Jones for Senate Committee has $2.1 million.
As Byrne stepped off the podium, Jones issued a statement calling him a “career politician” and “part of the problem in Washington.”
“Doug Jones is getting liberal money from all over the country,” Byrne countered. “But for all the things he’s different from Alabama about — he’s for gun control, he’s for abortion — we don’t like that. But there are lots of people around America — rich people — that do. So he’ll have an awful lot of money, probably more money than I can ever raise, but I think if we stick to our message … that dollar differential will not matter.”
Byrne began his political career as Democrat on the Alabama Board of Education. Switching to the Republican Party in 1997, he later represented Baldwin County in the Alabama State Senate from 2002-2007. In May 2007, he was appointed chancellor of the state’s two-year college system, where he became a figurehead for reform and made headlines for rooting out corruption and financial excess.
His career stalled in 2010 after a failed campaign for governor and he briefly returned to private practice as a business attorney for multi-state law firm Jones Walker. In 2013, when U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner announced he would not seek re-election, Byrne joined a crowded primary race to become only the fourth representative of the First District in a nearly five-decade period.
A contentious run-off election was set against Tea Party Republican Dean Young, but despite being labeled the “establishment” candidate, Byrne won with more than 52 percent of the vote, later cruising to victory against the Democratic candidate in the general election in a heavily Republican district.
He hasn’t faced a serious challenge since, including a rematch with Dean in 2016, which he won with a convincing 57 percent of the vote. But after Jones’ surprising victory, Byrne was almost immediately cast as a probable challenger in 2020. Last month, senior Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby alluded to Byrne’s probable candidacy at a legislative breakfast hosted by the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, leading to an extended ovation for the congressman.
Tonight, Byrne admitted he has also had private conversations discussing the possible campaign with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who held the seat for 20 years before Jones. He declined to elaborate.
In spite of calling Trump “not fit to be president” and urging him to drop out of the presidential race after the “Access Hollywood” tape was released in Oct. 2016, Byrne has since become one of the president’s biggest defenders. According to FiveThirtyEight, Byrne’s congressional voting record has fallen in line with Trump 96.3 percent of the time.
The first of several conservative issues he endorsed tonight was Trump’s plan to build the border wall, although he did not specifically mention the national emergency. He also cited his support for gun rights, the pro-life movement and conservative nominees for Supreme Court.
Byrne, who has frequently hosted town halls across the district throughout his term, said he would spend the next 48 hours on a statewide tour to Dothan, Montgomery, Decatur, Athens, Huntsville and Birmingham, among other places. The primary election is scheduled March 3, 2020.
“We need somebody who will fight for Alabama values, somebody that will say ‘we’re not going to do that in America. We’re not going to be a socialist country, we’re not going to kill babies as they are being delivered, we’re not going to take your guns away from you, we’re not going to take your health care away from you,’ I think I have a history of fighting for those values and I’m going to keep doing it, I don’t care what other people say.”
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