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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.”
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
(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.
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.”
“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, 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, 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.