Should irredeemable Roy Moore run for Congress, he’ll back Alabama Republicans into a dark corner from which escape will require Election Day risk or luck, or perhaps both. What would Alabama Republicans rather have: Moore in Congress or U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Birmingham, re-elected?
Moore’s not in the GOP nomination race — yet — but he’s the biggest name in a rapidly crowding field of candidates committed to Alabama’s ruling political party. Prevailing opinion supports that. Pundits believe that. Polling does, too. Republicans, if not all Alabamians, should weep.
On Tuesday, poll results showed Alabama’s twice-defrocked former Supreme Court chief justice atop the Republican primary race by a substantial margin. Moore’s 27 percent easily outdistanced U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks’ 18 percent in a poll conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy.
Disappointing? Absolutely. Surprising? Not in the least. Never underestimate the absurdity in modern-day Alabama politics. And never miscalculate Moore’s unique brand of popularity in a state that nearly sent a candidate credibly accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers to Congress.
That’s what national pundits don’t understand. They don’t get Alabama politics, and they certainly don’t understand why Moore has such a hold on Alabama Republicans. Truth be told, those pundits don’t understand Alabama, which rests at the core of the state GOP’s looming problem.
Moore’s supporters see him as the embodiment of what they want from an Alabama politician: a godly man, a military man, a strong leader who refuses to wither when confronted by Washington elites or Democratic opponents. To them, Alabama’s motto — “We Dare Defend Our Rights” — justifies Moore’s repeated defiances of federal court orders and state law.
Moore, the Mason-Dixon poll shows, is known by virtually all Republican voters in Alabama (96 percent name recognition). His name carries weight not enjoyed by Brooks, R-Huntsville, and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile. State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, exemplifies the dilemma. He hasn’t formally announced for the race, but he likely will. He’s president pro tem of the state Senate, arguably the most powerful politician in Alabama, and yet 57 percent of polled Alabamians don’t recognize his name.
The poll’s authors posit that the gap between Moore and the field will close as the 2020 primary draws near. “His current lead is largely a result of his name recognition advantage over others in the field,” they wrote. “Those cushions will evaporate once the campaign begins in earnest.” But we’re not so sure. It’s not outlandish to believe Moore would today sit in Congress if his personal troubles hadn’t engulfed the 2017 special Senate election.
Jones faces a daunting re-election campaign because he’s a Democrat in Alabama. That truth doesn’t dissolve if Moore stays out of the GOP race. What we welcome is the return of two-party politics to Alabama and a Senate election between Jones and the best candidate Alabama Republicans can select. If Moore turns out to be the state GOP’s choice, woe to all of us.