National Media Scrambles to Understand Alabama Politics

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U.S. Senate Candidate Doug Jones at an organizational meeting in Huntsville: Campaign photo from Facebook

By Glynn Wilson –

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With less than a week to go before a special election runoff in an national Senate race that could be a harbinger of the future for Alabama and the country, feisty former Judge Roy Moore is still holding off the big money and leading Senator Luther Strange by nearly nine percentage points, according to Real Clear Politics.

Scrambling to explain what’s going on, one media outlet after another published reports this week characterizing the race in different ways. But they all seem to miss the mark.

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Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon: Bing

According to the Jeff Bezos Washington Post, the race is being described as a war between alt-right figure Steve Bannon, now back with Breitbart News after being fired from the Trump White House, and the establishment Republican leadership led by Senator Mitch McConnell.

But let’s face facts. Bannon is no Karl Rove, and the people of Alabama do not vote on the basis of what the national media reports or on what the national Republican party says.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Bing

Then, McConnell’s influence is limited and on the wane. People hate these big money political ads. Many in the younger generations do not watch this stuff on broadcast or cable TV anyway. They use new technology to watch shows they like without seeing the ads. Those who still watch broadcast or cable TV simply change the channel and ignore the ads.

Yet even the mainstream wire service Reuters, scrambling to understand and try to explain what’s going on, frames its report as if the campaign was about a “rift” in the national Republican Party. Hogwash.

Moore and Strange will appear in a debate with no moderator Thursday night in Montgomery. Then on Friday, President Donald Trump will make a personal appearance in Huntsville to support Strange, which some analysts find weird since Moore is clearly the outsider insurgent who supports Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda even more fervently than Trump himself.

“I think that if you were to approach this without any prior knowledge … Judge Moore would be the more logical ‘Trumpian’ candidate,” Steven Taylor, a political science professor at Troy University, told Reuters.

The Washington Post story never even mentions the likely Democratic winner in the race, Birmingham attorney Doug Jones, which is odd since the Post and the New York Times are often quick to jump on the band wagon of pro-civil rights figures such as Jones, who has the solid credentials of convicting two Klansmen for the Birmingham church bombing as U.S. attorney.

The question that will be answered in the vote next Tuesday, September 26, is whether Trump has the clout in such an anti-Washington state to get an establishment oil industry lawyer and lobbyist elected over a religious nut who defies the constitution and legal societal norms at every opportunity.

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President-elect Donald J. Trump returns to Mobile, Alabama, in last stop on ‘victory tour.’: Glynn Wilson

“I am supporting ‘Big’ Luther Strange because he was so loyal & helpful to me!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

One of the weirdest reports of all comes from Breitbart News, which details an ethics complaint against Strange in a story with an entirely false and sensational lede.

“When disgraced former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley appointed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to the United States Senate to replace current United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February, cries of ‘corrupt bargain’ rang across the state,” the alt-right publication claims, although this is literally the first time anyone has heard or reported that term.

But it is apt, since Strange did make a corrupt bargain with Bentley that got him appointed to the U.S. Senate. The term is a throwback to the election of 1824.

Alabama real estate developer Stan Pate filed a complaint against Strange with the Alabama Ethics Commission August 9 alleging that Bentley’s appointment of Strange to the vacant U.S. Senate seat was “an unethical and illegal act by the two parties.”

The complaint outlines the chronology of events:

On April 5, 2016, an impeachment resolution was filed against Governor Bentley in the Alabama State Legislature. This resolution prompted the House Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment investigation into the charges on July 7, 2016.

On November 3, 2016, [Attorney General] Strange sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee requesting they put a hold on their active impeachment investigation of Governor Bentley. Strange, as Attorney General, an office charged with investigating and prosecuting alleged criminal actions of Alabama’s elected officials, called for a cessation into the investigation into Governor Bentley.

On December 6, 2016, Strange publicly announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat that would soon be vacated by Jeff Sessions.

In mid-December, Governor Bentley began interviewing candidates for the U.S. Senate seat. Twenty qualified candidates were interviewed, including Strange. In accepting and proceeding with the interview, Strange actively engaged in behavior that was in conflict of interest with his duties and obligations as Attorney General. Strange, as Attorney General, was charged with investigating and prosecuting Governor Bentley’s alleged criminal conduct.

Instead, in January of 2017, he [Strange] again called for the investigation to be put on hold and then interviewed with Governor Bentley for an appointment to U.S. Senator.

On February 9. 2017, Governor Bentley appointed Strange to Sessions’ former U.S. Senate seat.

Historically, voters in Alabama do not trust politicians in Washington or Montgomery, so it is no wonder a pol like Strange is not doing so well in the polls. The people turned on Bentley when he proposed a tax increase, then was kicked out of his church in Tuscaloosa for an alleged illicit affair.

Moore’s base is made up of about one third of Alabamians, including tens of thousands of Baptists, who simply do not believe in the separation of church and state anymore, forgetting their own history. We are still the only news organization anywhere to report this from interviews we conducted with retired Auburn historian Wayne Flynt.

Alabama Democrat Doug Jones Has A Chance to Be the Next U.S. Senator

“Moore’s advantage is that he does appeal to the true-believing base,” Taylor told Reuters. “In terms of which of the campaigns is going to be more adept at the ground game, I would think Strange has an advantage.”

Other news outlets report on the controversies surrounding Moore, but none analyze how such a controversial religious nut has any chance to be elected in a state where the business establishment holds such powerful sway. They have pulled out all the stops to back Strange, including gaining the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It’s not working because Strange is clearly corrupt and the people know that.

When Moore wins the primary, the ground will shift and powerful political forces such as Alabama Power will have no choice but to back Doug Jones, a mainstream Democrat who will not further embarrass the state every time he opens his mouth.

Back in 2008, when Artur Davis was bound and determined to run for governor over the objection of the Democratic Party hierarchy in Alabama, I worked with retired Auburn sociology professor Jim Gundlach on a story to see if Davis had any chance to become the first African-American governor on the heals of President Obama’s national victory.

Fighting the Final Battles of the Civil War

The data showed something quite interesting. Isolating the age variable in public opinion surveys to figure out when enough racists would die off to make it possible to elect a black president, Gundlach predicted that nationally, Obama had a chance in 2008 to win 57 percent of the popular vote. He hit the number right on the nail head. When running the same model in Alabama, he said it would be 12 more years before the same feat would be possible in the state. That would be 2020, the same year I predicted in the year 2000 that would the final year for daily newspapers in the U.S.

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U.S. Senate Candidate Doug Jones: Campaign photo from Facebook

We are still two and a half years away from that date, but the Doug Jones campaign may well be the first chance progressives have to begin turning the tide against the conservative trend that came of age in the era of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Clinton defied the odds in the 1990s because he was a pro-business Democrat. Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman won in 1998 because Alabama Power and others did not want four more years of a crazy nut job governor like Fob James. Obama won in 2008 because the numbers had shifted in his favor nationally.

By 2020, providing the Democrats can come up with viable candidates, they may be able to retake power in Washington and hold it for a generation. The numbers are in their favor.

This campaign with a Democrat like Doug Jones running against such a controversial figure as Roy Moore in Alabama could be the beginning of a long-term national political shift. But of course that all depends on a large turnout from progressive Democrats in the state’s larger cities, as well as a big turnout from women, African Americans and Latinos. The risk is that there about one million Baptists in Alabama, and most of them vote.

© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.