Steve Flowers: Who will defeat Doug Jones next year?

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It is a foregone conclusion that a Republican will take out our anomaly liberal democratic senator, Doug Jones, next year. The question is which Republican will be the nominee and capture the seat.

The early favorite is U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne.  There is an old adage that often holds true, the early bird gets the worm.

Byrne made the commitment to run over a year ago and he has been dedicated to the race 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 State 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 1st Congressional District.  Republican primaries begin and end in vote rich Baldwin County now.

The toughest challenge that Byrne could get may very well be fellow congressman, Mo Brooks from Huntsville.  Brooks is from the ultra-right wing of the GOP. National conservative group like and trust Brooks.  He is a true believer.  These folks are not excited about Byrne who 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 also like Byrne, Huntsville is a good place to be from in a Republican primary.

If Brooks opts not to run, the right wing groups in Washington, D.C. may pursue Birmingham Congressman Gary Palmer. Brooks and Palmer are cut from the same cloth. They are ultra true blue conservatives. Brooks is the better candidate of the two. 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, as well as Jones, put together.  The aforementioned probable candidates need to not underestimate the hardest working man in Alabama political show business, John 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 run-off unless there is a crowded field.  

In fact, a large crowd of GOP candidates could be attracted to the GOP race.  They may come from strange corners.  Former Auburn football coach, Tommy Tuberville, who was the Tigers football coach from 1999-2008 and who has more recently been the head football coach at Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Cincinnati has officially announced that he is a candidate for the GOP nomination. He is originally from Arkansas.

This scenarios reminds me of a story our ole Senator, the late Howell Heflin, use to tell while he was our U.S. Senator for 18 years. Heflin was a true World War II military hero. He won the Bronze star as a Marine officer.  Heflin hailed from Colbert County, Tuscumbia.

After undergraduate school at Birmingham Southern and Law School at the University of Alabama, he went back home to Tuscumbia and became one of the most prominent lawyer in Colbert County.  At 50 he ran for and was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.  After six-years there he went to the U.S. Senate for three year six-year terms.

Heflin was the son of a Methodist minister.  The Methodists at that time moved ministers around. It just so happened that at the time of Howell’s birth his daddy 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, “Yea, well my daddy was over in Georgia doing missionary work among the heathen.”

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist.  His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers.  He served 16 years in the state legislature.  Steve may be reached at:  www.steveflowers.us.