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Sunday Political Brunch: Why Republicans Had to Pivot on Roy Moore -- November 26, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – In a little over two weeks, the special election takes place in Alabama for the U.S. Senate. For the last few weeks Republicans have been trying to figure out what to do with their nominee, former Justice Roy Moore, who’s been accused of sexual improprieties from 40 years ago. At first, many shunned Moore and disavowed themselves from his campaign, but now some are offering an invisible group hug. So why the change? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Trump Won’t Stump” – President Trump was never a Moore backer. Instead he favored Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) who had been appointed to fill the vacant seat, but lost to Moore in the primary. Then, after the allegations were published in the Washington Post, Trump said Moore should step aside if the allegations were true. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) made similar measured responses, but later both Congressional leaders said Moore should quit, period! Meantime, Trump now says voters should now choose Moore to keep GOP control of the Senate. That’s quite a pivot!

“Write-In; Wrong Time” – Stuck with a nominee few party leaders wanted, the GOP then explored the idea of a write-in campaign for Senator Luther Strange. They even suggested Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) lead the campaign, since she was the last U.S. Senator to successfully wage a write-in vote. But soon, talk of a write-in faded as Moore dug in his heels. My guess is that internal party polling from both campaigns and from leaders in Washington all showed the same thing – that Moore and Strange would simply split the GOP vote, and Democratic candidate Doug Jones would easily walk away with what should be a “gimmie” seat in the U.S. Senate for Republicans.

“The Third Rail” – A third, potentially volatile option was to let Moore run his race with no party interference. If he won, leaders could quickly expel him from the Senate, and Governor Kay Ivey, (R-AL) would appoint a successor. Many in Alabama – on all sides of this race – quickly erupted in anger. How dare the national Republican Party (including the President, Senate Majority Leader and House Speaker) violate the votes and will of the Alabama electorate? It was a terrible idea and here’s why. Alabama – like many states – fiercely guards its state sovereignty. In short, Alabamans will decide what’s best for Alabama, not outsiders.

“The National Mood” – The Senate expulsion idea was bad for another reason, and that is the foul mood of voters in this country. The success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders reflected a very similar phenomenon. The voting public in many parts of this nation are fed up with the elitist, insider nature of Washington Beltway politics. People loved Trump and Sanders because they were outsiders, even though their political philosophies couldn’t be further apart. All politicians, especially incumbents, ought to reflect on this as it could be very instructive to campaigning next year.

“Practical Politics” – Yes, the Republican Senate Campaign Committee and various other party mechanisms are still shunning Moore and cutting off financial support, but there is likely plenty of support going on through back channels. Why? Because Republicans need and want to keep this seat, no matter the candidate. President Trump will likely have another Supreme Court nominee, and perhaps some treaties he wants signed, in addition to tax reform and other items. He needs the GOP to hold its Senate majority in the 2018 midterm elections, or the President’s agenda is in real trouble.

“The Placeholder” – Another factor in the sudden warming up to Roy Moore is the fact that this is a short-term seat. He running to fill the three remaining years of former Senator Jeff Sessions’ term. Moore is now 70, and may not even run again if he wins. That gives the state GOP time to groom a top-notch candidate for 2020, even someone to challenge Moore in a primary if he seeks reelection.

“The Other Accusations” – Please don’t misinterpret what I am about to say. Allegations and admissions of sexual misconduct are serious business, and should not be taken lightly. Those that occur in the workplace are especially troublesome. But the recent avalanche of allegations or admissions involving other people such as Charlie Rose, Sen. Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Rep. John Conyers, former President George H.W. Bush, and some prominent business leaders, probably helps Roy Moore. They have drawn much of the attention away from him, and have probably diluted the degree of public outrage. I’m not giving Moore a “boys will be boys” pass here, but the more recent allegations are grabbing the headlines, and pushing the Moore’s story to the status of old news. Remember the outrage against Donald Trump for the “Access Hollywood” tapes faded, and a month later he was elected President.

“Don’t Underestimate the Democrats” – It’s important to note that Democrats have a legitimate shot at winning the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones has an impressive resume and prosecuted the Olympic Park and abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph. Yes, Alabama is among the reddest of red states. But if Democrats can forge a coalition of their own voters, combined with independents and even some Republicans who don’t like Moore, Jones could win. The latest poll from Strategy Research has Moore leading by two points, but the latest Gravis Poll has Jones up by five points. This race is a toss-up!

What are your thoughts on the U.S. Senate race in Alabama? Just leave your insights by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, with outlying viewership in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Sunday Political Brunch: Why is South Carolina Such a Pivotal State -- November 19, 2017

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FORT JACKSON, SC – We were on the road again this week to attend an Army graduation in South Carolina. I got to tour one of the nation’s largest military bases, as well as a visit to the State Capitol in Columbia. It made me reflect on how critical this state has become to presidential politics. I like to profile different states and issues while on the road. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Palmetto State’s Primary Colors” – With all the quadrennial media hub-bub about the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary, the third contest often gets short-shrift. But South Carolina - usually the third contest – is often a significant turning point. For example, in 2016, a distant fourth-place finish spelled the end for the man many thought would be the frontrunner, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) Florida. And that fact that it was Donald Trump’s second straight win after a second-place showing in Iowa, meant he was a legitimate candidate to be reckoned with.

“The Race About Race” – South Carolina has been a significant turning point in several other Presidential elections, too. In 2008 Sen. Barack Obama (D) Illinois won in the Palmetto State primary with 55 percent of the vote. In doing so, he defeated Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) New York - the spouse of former President Bill Clinton - a Southerner. And Obama also defeated neighboring Sen. John Edwards, (D) North Carolina. In a state and region that had seen plenty of racial strife, it was a big turning point in the campaign when a black candidate won. Iowa and New Hampshire were interesting, but South Carolina was the first time in covering any campaign that I said an African-American had a very good chance at winning the White House.

“The Future” – As I have said several times in this column in the past year, we are still be on the verge of electing our first woman president. On my drive through South Carolina, I heard network radio reports from the United Nations, where U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley was chastising the Russian government in a U.N. speech. She’s created a lot of headlines being one of the point-persons in the ongoing nuclear tensions with North Korea, and has been speaking forcefully against its dictator Kim Jong-un. Former Gov. Nikki Haley (R) South Carolina – like President Obama – has shown the Palmetto State is willing to choose diverse leadership. She remains on my short list of potential future Presidents.

“Strom Thurmond” – One of the longest roads through Fort Jackson is Strom Thurmond Boulevard. It is named after long-time Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) South Carolina, who served 48-years in the U.S. Senate, and died in office at the age of 100. Yes, Thurmond was a controversial figure over the years, especially on issues of race relations, but he evolved and changed his views over his long career. I got to know him quite well as a reporter covering Carolina issues at the U.S. Capitol in the 1990s. I laughed because he always called me, “Sonny!” He was a master at constituent service, and “bringing home the bacon” to his state, not the least of which is the huge military infrastructure that remains intact. He was a significant, and fascinating political figure, regardless of anyone’s personal feelings about him.

“Yesterday and Today” – For all the racial tension and division that has characterized South Carolina politics for decades, things have decidedly changed. In 2010 the state elected an Indian-America female named Nikki Haley, to the Governor’s Mansion. In 2013 when Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) resigned his seat, Haley appointed Rep. Tom Scott (R-SC), to the vacant U.S. Senate seat. Scott is African-American. He then won a special election for the remainder of the Senate term in 2014, and won a full, six-year Senate term in 2016. In both 2014 and 2016, Scott faced an African-American opponent from the Democratic party. In U.S. history there have been only three Senate races where both major party candidates were black. The bottom line, if you don’t think South Carolina – and the nation have changed -- just look at what’s happened here politically since 2008.

“Victory Starts Here; Right Here!” – I’ve attended countless military events in forty years as a reporter. Though I never served, I have a deep, abiding respect for the service of others including my dad, uncle, grandfather, father-in-law, and countless friends. But this event was special. We watched our daughter, SPC. Alexandra Curtis graduate from BCT (Basic Combat Training), commonly known as boot camp. It was an emotional two days, with lots of smiles and tears. The graduating class included 1,125 brave warriors, ranging in age from 17 to 38, from all walks of life. I have never been so proud as a dad – and as an American – to witness the collective talent that walked on Hilton Field. The United States in in good hands. The post’s motto is: “Forty Rounds; No Ground to Give; Victory Starts Here; Right Here!” Amen!

Is there a special military person, past, or present, you’d like to salute this Thanksgiving week? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, and the bordering states of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media

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