Will Alabamians still like ‘Big Luther’ as D.C. insider?

Published 1:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2017

“…I have two great kids, three dogs and four shotguns. I go to church every Sunday, and never have played tennis at the Mt. Brook Club. I’d rather be hunting …”

So begins my all-time favorite political commercial, used by Jim Folsom Jr. in 2006 when he defeated Luther Strange in the race for lieutenant governor. In a mere 30 seconds, Folsom manages to convey who he is, be seen with his wife, his kids, his guns and his dogs, tie himself to Alabama’s success in recruiting Mercedes here, and assure voters he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

If I were any of the candidates planning to challenge Strange – who is now a U.S. Senator – in the August Republican primary for that seat, I’d be calling Gov. Folsom to find out who produced that media for him.

Strange, you might recall, was the Alabama attorney general whose office was investigating then-Gov. Robert Bentley. Bentley appointed Strange to the unexpired Senate term of Jeff Sessions when Sessions became U.S. attorney general. It’s an appointment Bentley should not have made and Strange should not have accepted if either of them cared about ethics.

And now that’s he’s been in office a few months, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which recruits and defends Republican candidates, has not only said they will work to help Strange win the special election set for this year, but they’ll also blacklist any firm that dares work for a Republican opponent,

a spokeswoman told Politico this week.

As Strange has entered the race with approximately $750,000 in his campaign fund, the NRSC’s push is expected to make it more difficult for his opponents to hire consultants.

That means that State Rep. Ed Henry, Christian Coalition of Alabama president Dr. Randy Brinson, and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore – all announced Republican contenders – have hard roads ahead of them.

“Anyone who runs against Luther is going to have every oppo shop in DC and elsewhere digging up their past and airing their dirty laundry,” West Honeycutt, a D.C. political consultant and Alabama native to Al.com Friday.

Strange has strong name recognition in the state, having run three statewide campaigns, two of which he won. But “they say” he also has high negatives as a result of Bentley’s appointment and resignation.

Strange spent his career as a lobbyist before returning home to Alabama to enter the political fray. In the announced field, he might even by the best choice for the office.

But if some bright producer like the one who produced Folsom’s commercial starts keying on the fact that Washington very much considers Strange an insider?

In this Trump era of grassroots support for outsiders and change, I don’t like his odds.

Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.