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Alabama U.S. House scramble: Roby retirement opens 2nd seat as reapportionment loss looms

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby’s surprise decision to leave Congress further upsets the state’s congressional apple cart

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby surprised the political world Friday by announcing that she won’t seek re-election in 2020, leaving two of the Yellowhammer State’s seven House seats open during next year’s election.

And as large fields of Republicans scramble in primaries for those seats, they’ll do so with the expectation that one of them could have but a brief stay in Congress, depending on how the political cards fall following the 2020 U.S. Census.

Based on current population projections, Alabama is set to lose one of its seven seats during the next reapportionment. Because of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the lost seat is almost sure to be one of the six Republicans now hold, rather than the lone Democratic seat held by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in the majority black 7th District.

That will leave six Republicans competing for five seats, which means two of them will have to run against each other if none of them step aside. State legislators will draw new district lines in 2021, which will go into effect for the 2022 election.

In 2020, the 1st District seat, which includes Mobile and Lower Alabama, is open because U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is running for the U.S. Senate. Roby’s departure now opens the 2nd District seat, which includes Montgomery and the southeastern corner of the state.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama

Roby, just 43 and in her fourth term in Congress, was elected in the GOP sweep in 2010. Her decision to leave Congress came just two days after she questioned special counsel Robert Mueller on national television during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

She is one of just 13 Republican women in Congress, the party’s lowest level of female representation in 25 years.

In a statement announcing her retirement, Roby thanked her constituents for the “tremendous privilege and honor” of representing them in Washington but did not offer an explanation for her decision to leave.

“Throughout my five terms in Congress, I have cast every vote with the guiding principle that Alabama always comes first,” she said. “While my name will not be on the ballot in 2020, I remain committed to continuing the fight for Alabama and the people I represent until I cast my last vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.“

Roby has faced unexpected competition in her last two re-election bids after she called on Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race when the infamous Access Hollywood tape — in which he can be heard bragging about groping women — came to light

In the 2016 general election, Roby was held to less than 50 percent of the vote in her strongly Republican district after nearly 30,000 angry Trump fans wrote in someone else. In 2018, she was challenged in the GOP primary and forced into a runoff, which she won after getting Trump’s support.

Had she run in 2020, Roby would have been on the ballot with Trump — which would have prompted uncomfortable questions about her current and evolving views on the commander-in-chief.

Republicans will be heavily favored to keep both of the open seats in 2020. But after reapportionment, those two freshmen may need legislators to draw a favorable map and then defeat another incumbent in order to survive.

State legislators are required to draw districts that have equal populations. However, because there will be six seats instead of seven, the population of those districts will need to be larger, which could force a wholesale redrawing of the map statewide.

The Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of majority-minority districts whenever possible, which should protect much of Sewell’s district, although it will need to expand.

Federal law does not require a House candidate to actually live in the district where he or she runs. However, running in new territory is much more difficult and counteracts the benefits of incumbency.

Currently, there are four GOP districts centered on the state’s major population centers — Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Two other districts cover more rural areas in eastern and western Alabama.

Given that urban areas of the state, particularly Huntsville, are growing faster than rural areas, the rural districts would seem to be more at risk. However, the two men who represent them — Mike Rogers in the 3rd District and Robert Aderholt in the 4th District — have been in Congress much longer than the other incumbents and could have more pull with state legislators when it comes time to draw new maps.

Aderholt was elected in 1996; Rogers, in 2002.

The 5th District Huntsville seat is held by Mo Brooks, elected in 2010. The 6th District seat metro Birmingham seat is held by Gary Palmer, elected in 2014.

Alabama is one of two Southern states expected to lose seats during the 2020 reapportionment, along with West Virginia. Texas is expected to pick up three seats; Florida, 2; and North Carolina, 1. The other Southern states will retain their current represenation.

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GOP’s Alabama headache returns: Roy Moore running for U.S. Senate

Former chief justice ignores Donald Trump’s plea not to seek a rematch of 2017 loss

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will try again in 2020 to get elected to the U.S. Senate, three years after his campaign for the same office imploded amid sexual misconduct allegations — and despite a Twitter plea from President Donald Trump to stay out of the race.

“Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I, they know I can. That’s why there’s such opposition,” Moore said at his June 20 announcement, referring to Republican leaders who will now face the headache of dealing with Moore in the GOP primary as they try to reclaim the seat from Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

Roy Moore announces Senate run in Montgomery (WKRG via YouTube)

“Why does the mere mention of my name cause people just to get up in arms in Washington, D.C.?” Moore said. “Is it because I believe in God and marriage and in morality in our country, that I believe in the right of a baby in the womb to have a life? Are these things embarrassing to you?”

Moore’s candidacy is being opposed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of GOP senators, as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby.

But it is the opposition of Trump — hugely popular in the Yellowhammer State — that may be the most formidable Republican obstacle in Moore’s path.

In a May 29 tweet, as speculation swirled that Moore might run, Trump said, “If Alabama does not elect a Republican to the Senate in 2020, many of the incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost, including our Pro-Life victories. Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating.”

Asked about the president’s opposition during his campaign announcement, Moore reiterated his support for Trump’s agenda and said he believed the president was being pressured to come out against him.

“I think President Trump has every right to voice his opinion. I think he’s being pushed by the NRSC,” Moore said.

Moore, 72, once again denied allegations made by five women that he pursued them sexually when they were teenagers in the 1970s — allegations that proved devastating to his 2017 campaign against Jones.

“I’ve taken a lie-detector test. I’ve take a polygraph test. I’ve done everything I could do,” he said.

Moore also said Jones’s win in 2017 — the first by a Democrat in an Alabama Senate race in 25 years — was “fraudulent” because he was the victim of a “false flag operation using Russian tactics.”

In late 2018, several news organizations reported that a group financed by a Democratic operative used Twitter and Facebook to spread disinformation against Moore, who lost to Jones by just 1 percent of the vote.

Jones, who has said he was not aware of what the group was doing, repudiated what he termed “deceptive tactics” and called for a federal investigation.

In his 2020 announcement, Moore said he suspected “Republican collusion” in the Democratic disinformation campaign, although he didn’t offer specifics.

Moore will be running in the Republican primary against a field that already includes U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Mobile, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Secretary of State John Merrill from Tuscaloosa, and State Rep. Arnold Mooney from suburban Birmingham.

The two top vote getters in the March 2020 primary will advance to a runoff.

The challenge for the NRSC and Senate Republican leaders will be finding a way to work against Moore while remaining neutral among the other candidates. In 2017, their open support of Luther Strange backfired when Moore turned his ties with the Washington establishment into a potent campaign issue.

Moore first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as Alabama’s chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after telling local officials that they didn’t have to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate vacancy created when Jeff Sessions resigned to become Trump’s attorney general.

In 2017, Moore was able to use his base of support from his tenure as chief justice to get into the runoff, where he defeated Strange, who had been appointed to the seat temporarily by disgraced former Governor Robert Bentley.

Trump had backed Strange in the runoff but quickly got on board with Moore once he won. But after the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, McConnell, Shelby and other Republican Senate leaders abandoned their wounded nominee, even announcing that they would expel him from the Senate if he won.

Jones, who now faces the formidable challenge of trying to hang on to his Senate seat in deep red Alabama, is considered to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the Senate in 2020.

Jones greeted Moore’s announcement with a tweet: “So it looks like my opponent will either be extremist Roy Moore or an extremist handpicked by Mitch McConnell to be part of his legislative graveyard team. Let’s get to work so we can get things done!”

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Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville running for U.S. Senate

Tuberville gives Trump a shout out in his announcement; Sean Spicer reportedly set to work in his campaign

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville has announced that he will seek the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in football-happy Alabama in 2020.

U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville

“After more than a year of listening to Alabama’s citizens, I have heard your concerns and hopes for a better tomorrow,” he said in a brief statement posted on a new campaign website and on Twitter. “I am humbled to announce the next step — I will be a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.”

In his tweet, Tuberville used the hashtag #MAGA, President Donald Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again.”

Politico reported the Sean Spicer, Trump’s first press secretary, plans to work for Tuberville’s campaign.

Tuberville, 64, coached Auburn for nine seasons from 1999 to 2008, ending with an 85-40 record. He won  an SEC championship in 2004, when his team went undefeated but wasn’t invited to play in the national championship game.

Among Tuberville’s biggest achievements at Auburn — beating in-state rival Alabama six straight times. Now, he’ll need to appeal to those same rabid Alabama fans to make his political dreams come true.

The man now sitting in the Senate seat, Democrat Doug Jones, is an Alabama graduate.

Tuberville will face U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, who went to law school at Alabama, in the Republican primary next year.

At least two other GOP candidates, State Auditor Jim Zeigler and State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, are also looking at the race.

Jones won the Senate seat in a special election in 2017 after the campaign of Republican Roy Moore imploded amid allegations of sexual contact with underage girls.

Given Alabama’s strong Republican tilt, Jones is considered to be the most vulnerable Democratic senator facing re-election in 2020.

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Republican U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne first to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in 2020

Byrne’s past criticism of President Donald Trump could become an issue in the GOP primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Watch Byrne’s campaign kickoff. Video below story.

MOBILE (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne has become the first Republican to enter the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Alabama, drawing a contrast between what he called “bedrock” Alabama values and the priorities of Washington — and between his positions and those of the  Democrat now holding the seat, Doug Jones.

“Look at Washington and tell me you don’t see a disconnect between your values and the values you see up there,” Byrne said at his campaign kickoff February 20 at an oyster house in Mobile. “Look at Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne kicks off Senate campaign in Mobile (From WKRG via YouTube)

Byrne drew a contrast with Jones over his opposition to Brent Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, his stand in favor of legal abortion, and his opposition to the president’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“When the people we charge with patrolling our Southern border, with protecting you and me, tell us we need to build some more border wall, we build a border wall,” Byrne said, to applause from his supporters.

Byrne also warned his supporters that “the people that presently hold this seat intend to keep it, and they will stop at nothing.”

Byrne, 64, from Baldwin County just across the bay from Mobile, was elected to Alabama’s 1st District U.S. House seat in a 2013 special election and has won re-election easily three times. He had previously served in the State Senate and as chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.

While Byrne offered full-throated support of Trump in his campaign kickoff, his previous comments about the president could come back to haunt him in a Republican primary in a state where the president remains popular.

During the 2016 campaign, after a video surfaced in which Trump was heard describing how he groped women’s genitals, Byrne withdrew his endorsement and called on Trump to exit the race, saying he could not defeat Hillary Clinton. However, he later made it clear that he did not support Clinton and would vote for the Republican ticket.

Byrne was joined by two of his House colleagues from Alabama, Martha Roby and Mo Brooks, in criticizing Trump during the campaign — and both of them discovered, as Byrne might, the political consequences of running afoul of the Trump faithful.

Brooks came in third place in the Republican primary in a 2017 special election to fill the Senate seat Jones now holds against two candidates who criticized him for his comments about Trump. Roby was forced into a primary runoff in 2018 for the same reason, although she survived.

Jones, 64, won a special election to the Senate in 2017 after the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, was accused of pursuing sexual relationships with underage girls, allegations which Moore denied. Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats on the ballot in 2020, in a state Trump carried in 2016 by 28 points.

During his time in the Senate, Jones has not tried to tack to the right to appeal to Alabama’s conservative electorate. He has supported the Democratic leadership on key votes, which included voting against the Republican tax cut plan and the Kavanaugh nomination, and he also supports same-sex marriage and providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants.

Jones ended 2018 with $2.1 million in cash on hand for the 2020 race, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Given Jones perceived vulnerability, the race is expected to draw an number of Republican challengers into the primary with Byrne. State Auditor Jim Zeigler has formed an exploratory committee, and others considering the race are U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer from Hoover and State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh from Anniston.

The Senate race in Alabama is one of 13 Southern Senate races in 2020. Only two of those seats are held by Democrats, Jones and Virginia’s Mark Warner.

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Watch Byrne’s campaign kickoff:

Trump’s Southern firewall shows cracks but no wholesale erosion

Three Alabama politicos flee from Trump; Rubio, Burr and McCrory are non-committal

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

southern states sm(CFP) — Donald Trump’s support among Southern elected officials has begun to crack after the release of an audiotape in which he made offensive comments about women, but, so far, there has been no wholesale deterioration of his Southern support heading into the second presidential debate.

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia is the only Southern senator to distance herself from Trump, calling on him to “reexamine his candidacy” in light of remarks that surfaced on October 9 in which he bragged about being able to sexually assault women because of his celebrity.

“As a woman, a mother and a grandmother to three young girls, I am deeply offended by Mr. Trump’s remarks, and there is no excuse for the disgusting and demeaning language,” Capito said in a statement.

Comstock

Comstock

Two U.S. House incumbents in tough re-election battles, Reps. Barbara Comstock in Virginia and William Hurd in Texas, both announced they would not vote for Trump and want him to step aside as the Republican nominee.

But three other incumbent Republican politicians locked in tight re-election fights – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Richard Burr of North Carolina and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory – did not retract their support for Trump, although all three condemned his remarks.

Rubio, who offered Trump a tepid endorsement after losing to him in the GOP presidential primaries, went on Twitter to call Trump’s remarks “vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify.” But his opponent in the Senate race, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, said Rubio’s refusal to unendorse Trump amounted to “political cowardice.”

Murphy

Murphy

“Donald Trump is a threat to every value this country holds dear,” Murphy said in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper. “If Marco Rubio cannot withdraw his endorsement after this latest sickening news, then he should withdraw from the race.”

The most significant erosion of Trump’s support has come in conservative Alabama, where Republican Governor Robert Bentley has announced he won’t vote for Trump, and two GOP members of the U.S. House delegation, Reps. Martha Roby and Bradley Byrne, have called on him to step aside as their party’s presidential nominee.

“As disappointed as I’ve been with his antics throughout the campaign, I thought supporting the nominee was the best thing for our country and our party,” Roby said in a statement “Now, it is abundantly clear that the best thing for our country and our party is for Trump to step aside and allow a responsible, respectable Republican to lead the ticket.”

Byrne called Trump’s comments “disgraceful and appalling.”

“It is now clear Donald Trump is not fit to be President of the United States and cannot defeat Hillary Clinton,” he said in a statement. “I believe he should step aside and allow Governor Pence to lead the Republican ticket.”

Roby represents parts of metro Montgomery and southeast Alabama. Byrne represents metro Mobile and southwestern parts of the state. Both are seeking re-election, and neither race is expected to be competitive in November.

Bentley

Bentley

Bentley, who has been mired in his own scandal over a purported affair with a former aide, issued a short statement in which he said, “I certainly won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, but I cannot and will not vote for Donald Trump.”

Notably absent from the list of Alabama politicos distancing themselves from Trump is U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, one of his staunchest supporters in Congress. Trump announced Sessions would be in New York to help him prepare for his October 9 debate with Hillary Clinton, although Sessions’s office has not confirmed that information.

In Virginia, Comstock, who had not previously endorsed Trump, is in a tough re-election battle in the 10th District, based in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, against Democrat Democrat LuAnn Bennett, a real estate developer who is the ex-wife of former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.

Comstock called Trump’s comments “disgusting, vile and disqualifying.”

“No woman should ever be subjected to this type of obscene behavior, and it is unbecoming of anybody seeking high office,” she said in a statement. “Donald Trump should step aside and allow our party to replace him with Mike Pence or another appropriate nominee from the Republican Party. I cannot in good conscience vote for Donald Trump, and I would never vote for Hillary Clinton.”

In Texas, Hurd, who had also not endorsed Trump, is battling to keep his 23rd District seat, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio across a wide swath of West Texas to the edge of El Paso.

As a black Republican running in a majority Latino district, Trump’s incendiary comments about Latinos had already put Hurd on the defensive in the race against the man he beat in 2014, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego.

Hurd issued a statement saying he could not vote for a candidate who degrades women and insults minorities. He said Trump should step aside in favor of “a true conservative to beat Hillary Clinton.”

Burr

Burr

Burr, who polls show is neck-and-neck with Democrat Deborah Ross in his re-election race in North Carolina, told Politico that he was “going to watch (Trump’s) level of contrition over the next few days to determine my level of support.”

McCrory, who trails Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper in recent polls, issued a statement in which he said, “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the comments made by Donald Trump regarding women. I find them disgusting,” But he stopped short of retracting his support for Trump or announcing that he would not vote for him.

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