By STEVE FLOWERS
It is a foregone conclusion in 2020 a Republican will take out Alabama’s anomaly, liberal Democratic Sen. Doug Jones. The question is which Republican will be the nominee and capture the seat?
The early favorite is U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne. There is an old adage that often holds true — the early bird gets the worm.
Byrne made the commitment to run more than a year ago and is running full speed ahead. He is raising good money and crisscrossing the state in a very organized manner. Byrne ran a good race for governor in 2010 so he knows what he is doing. He has served coastal Alabama in the Alabama Senate and now six years in Congress. If he is the only major candidate from the Mobile/Baldwin area in the primary, he will get a good “friends and neighbors” vote in his First Congressional District. Republican primaries begin and end in vote-rich Baldwin County now.
The toughest challenge Byrne could get may very well be fellow Rep. Mo Brooks from Huntsville. Brooks is from the ultra-right wing of the GOP. National conservative group like and trust Brooks, who is a true believer. These folks are not excited about Byrne, whom they perceive as a silk stocking, country club Republican. Brooks also has a more recent statewide race under his belt than Byrne. Being a congressman gives him access to Washington and national donors and Huntsville is a good place to be from in a Republican primary.
If Brooks opts not to run, the right-wing groups in Washington may pursue Birmingham Rep. Gary Palmer. Brooks and Palmer are cut from the same cloth — both are ultra conservatives. Brooks is the better candidate of the two as he is more charismatic and flamboyant.
The person to watch may be Secretary of State John Merrill. If he enters, he will be a player. He is the hardest-working person in Alabama politics. He is not only the best retail politician currently on the Alabama political stage, he may be one of the best in Alabama political history. His organization is like something put together in a bygone era. He will outwork everybody in the GOP primary put together as well as Jones. The aforementioned probable candidates better not underestimate Merrill.
The legendary Roy Moore may make the race. His name identification and base allows him the luxury of not having much money. He should not be underestimated or dismissed as a has been. However, I do think his base has diminished to about 15 percent of the primary vote, which is not enough to make the runoff unless there is a crowded field.
In fact, a large crowd of candidates could be attracted to the GOP race and may come from strange corners. Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville has officially announced he is a candidate for the GOP nomination.
This scenario reminds me of a story the late Howell Heflin used to tell while he was our U.S. Senator for 18 years. Heflin, of Tuscumbia, was a World War II military hero and won the bronze star as a Marine officer. After law school, he went back home to Tuscumbia and became one of the most prominent lawyers in Colbert County. At 50, he ran for and was elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. After six years, he went to the U.S. Senate.
Heflin was the son of a Methodist minister and the Methodists moved ministers around. It just so happened at the time of Howell’s birth his father was doing a stint at a church in Georgia. Heflin, being a true Alabamian and an Alabama political leader, was a little embarrassed about the place of his birth. He would often say, “Yeah, well, my daddy was over in Georgia doing missionary work among the heathen.”
Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature and can be reached at www.steveflowers.us.