For 20 years, one month and six days, Jeff Sessions admirably served the people of Alabama in the U.S. Senate. In early 2016, he made big gamble in endorsing Donald Trump for president of the United States during a rally here in his home state. And it paid off, sort of.
Sessions went on to become Trump’s U.S. Attorney General, and then you know the rest. On November 7, 2018, the day after the midterms, Sessions resigned after a tumultuous tenure.
Since then, Sessions has avoided the spotlight, save for a few public speaking engagements. But suddenly, his former colleague Sen. Richard Shelby is pushing his name back into the spotlight.
Shelby, who manages to avoid media in his own state altogether, has been cited in national and inside-the-beltway media outlets professing the virtues of a Jeff Sessions 2020 U.S. Senate candidacy.
According to Alabama’s senior senator, Sessions would clear the field and be a shoo-in to defeat incumbent Sen. Doug Jones in the November 2020 general election.
Shelby is correct on both accounts. However, it is safe to assume anyone with an “R” next to his or her name (even Roy Moore) can beat Doug Jones with Trump at the top of the 2020 general election ballot in Alabama.
A more pressing question is: Why is the normally media-shy Shelby pushing Sessions to clear out a field that includes U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, Secretary of State John Merrill, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville, State Rep. Arnold Mooney and (for whatever reason) a televangelist from Haleyville named Stanley Adair?
It’s clear that of those candidates, there are a few names Shelby would rather not see serving alongside him in the U.S. Senate, and it’s not just Roy Moore.
Whether it is name recognition or because people want an outsider to represent Alabama in the world’s most exclusive club, since announcing his candidacy, Tuberville has been the front-runner of the contest.
A poll taken last week (before Merrill’s official announcement) by the polling firm Cygnal showed Tuberville leading with 29 percent, Byrne with 21 percent, Moore with 13 percent, Merrill with 12 percent, Mooney with 2 percent and 22 percent still undecided.
Even if you do not believe this poll (and others that back it up), is there any reason to believe Roy Moore will be the U.S. senatorial Republican nominee in 2020? The correct answer is likely no.
It’s not Moore’s fault. We can relitigate the 2017 saga, but the accusations and the controversy mysteriously vanished on December 13, 2017. That’s not to say they won’t return before Alabama Republican voters choose their next nominee. It was clear there were some very powerful well-placed people who did not want Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate, and that is likely still the case.
Given that, Moore remains, at best, a long shot to be the nominee.
Could it be that Shelby’s bigger concern is the possibility of Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Auburn?
In this very early going, Tuberville has been something akin to a bull in a china shop. He has made statements about religion, immigration and the perception of general dysfunction in Washington D.C., all of which have resonated with a conservative base.
Some of that probably scares the hell of out Shelby, who likely views himself as the appropriator more than a legislator. Tuberville would likely be a distraction from what he sees as the primary objective of an Alabama congressional delegation, which is to steer funds back to Alabama.
Perhaps more troubling for candidates not named Roy Moore or Tommy Tuberville is that Shelby does not think they can win, and therefore we need Jeff Sessions to come in and save the day.
Imagine being Bradley Byrne, who has done everything right in the early going of his senatorial campaign. However, overcoming the stigma of being the guy who lost to Robert Bentley is challenging, to say the least.
Indications are Sessions will not be announcing his candidacy anytime soon. Why would he want to return to the U.S. Senate with no guarantee of any of the seniority he left behind to become attorney general? Even with his former seniority, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican leadership treated him as a backbencher — evading him during years the GOP was in the minority only to demote him when the GOP took the majority.
There is little for Sessions to gain returning to the U.S. Senate. There is also the problem of Alabama’s two U.S. Senators having very little in the way of seniority in a post-Richard Shelby-era.
Let us hope Shelby’s commentary on the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Alabama is just that. The last time McConnell, Shelby and company tried to impose a U.S. Senator on Alabama voters, it did not work out. With a path cleared for Luther Strange in 2017 by Shelby and McConnell, Alabama Republicans opted for the bargain bin of Alabama political history and nominated Roy Moore instead.
How did that work out?
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