With polls shaky for Luther Strange, Donald Trump heads to Alabama

Republicans Roy Moore and Luther Strange, the incumbent, will hold a debate on who should hold the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. attorney general. Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP, Butch Dill

The Republican race for U.S. Senate in Alabama is closing in on next Tuesday’s runoff vote, and it has become a strange thing indeed.

Incumbent Luther Strange, appointed by an Alabama governor on his way to impeachment, faces Roy Moore, a former Alabama chief justice kicked off the bench not once, but twice. The two candidates have a mano-a-mano debate tonight, without a moderator.

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have both endorsed Strange, but Trump in particular had to be persuaded to be the focal point for an Alabama rally on Friday. From the Washington Post:

President Donald Trump had formally given Sen. Luther Strange his “complete and total endorsement.” But as recently as last week, his advisers were deeply divided on whether the president should risk jetting to Alabama to prop up the Republican, who was trailing in his primary race behind a challenger who had become a darling to Trump’s base.

Senate Republicans essentially had to wage a mini-campaign to persuade Trump that he could make the difference in this case. Alabama politics can be a ruthless sport. Here’s one of today’s headlined pieces on  al.com:

The head of Sen. Luther Strange’s campaign fundraising committee is listed on federal tax documents as an officer in the nonprofit agency federal prosecutors say was used to bribe an Alabama lawmaker who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges this month.

But it is the uncertain polling that has Washington Republicans worried, according to Geoffrey Skelley. He writes in Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

In an average of polls taken since Sept. 6, Moore holds about a 10-point lead over Strange, 48%-38%. None of the surveys taken in September are particularly satisfying from an analyst’s perspective: Two come from sources with horses in the runoff race — Voter Consumer Research polled for the Senate Leadership Fund, which backs Strange, and Time for Choosing is a pro-Moore PAC — while the other four surveys all have potential methodological issues…

Vice President Mike Pence will serve as a closer for Strange, with an appearance in Alabama on Monday.

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We told you Wednesday morning about a Politico.com article that noted former Georgia congressman Tom Price’s growing taste for private jets over commercial flights. But issue really didn’t take off until last evening, when evening cable news programs began chewing on the secretary of health and human services.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. AP file/Manuel Balce Ceneta

That’s when we received this note from an angry state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, urging us to tune in:

“Price used to rail against private jets and said their use was fiscal irresponsibility run amok. He’s clearly changed his views. Now he loves private planes and thinks taxpayers should fund his lavish, unrestrained spending.”

About the same time, WSB Radio’s Jamie Dupree sent out the statement that HHS had just issued in Price’s defense. Price is a busy guy, see, with hurricanes to worry about, and is constantly seeking ways to get out of Washington. The text:

“Within an incredibly demanding schedule full of 13+ hour days, every effort is being made to maximize Secretary Price’s ability to travel outside Washington to meet with the American people and carry out HHS’s missions.

“Secretary Price is currently managing public health and human services recovery and preparation efforts for three major hurricanes.“Secretary Price leads a $1.2 trillion agency – the largest agency in government. The travel department continues to check every possible source for travel needs, including commercial, but commercial travel is not always feasible.

“The president has made it clear his administration will move power out of Washington and return it to the American people. Secretary Price will continue meeting with the American people outside of the Beltway to hear their concerns and ensure HHS makes decisions that best provide for their needs.”

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Sally Yates has found a temporary paying gig. The former federal prosecutor from Atlanta, fired from her post as acting U.S. attorney general in January by President Donald Trump, will be a lecturer at Georgetown University Law Center. The job conveniently keeps her in Washington, in case any one in particular — Bobby Threesticks, say — wants to find her.

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Two major trade groups for insurers on Wednesday announced their opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill that Senate Republicans hope to bring to the floor next week in a last-ditch attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, according to the New York Times. “The legislation reduces funding for many states significantly and would increase uncertainty in the marketplace, making coverage more expensive and jeopardizing Americans’ choice of health plans,” said Scott Serota, the president and CEO of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Andy Miller of Georgia Health News has put his paws on a study that says Georgia would get more money from the Graham-Cassidy bill than with previous Senate Republican repeal attempts, but could suffer from its impact in the long-term. A recent AJC breakdown by Ariel Hart and Tamar Hallerman can be found here.

Meanwhile, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel devoted yet another late-night monologue to the serious topic of health care and the Graham-Cassidy bill:

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Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed hesitated for a second or two when asked what he’ll do to help persuade Amazon to locate its second headquarters – and about 50,000 jobs – in his city. The state’s going to take the lead, he said, and Gov. Nathan Deal is a formidable closer.

Then he added: “I understand this moment and the city of Atlanta is going to do everything it can,” he said. “We got to those wins by being modest, keeping our mouth shut and working quietly. That’s a formula that’s worked pretty well for us.” Don’t expect him to be a wallflower.

“I’m not just sitting over there dusting,” he said. “We’re working on some things that are pretty big swan songs. This is my fourth quarter, and I’m going to play like it’s the fourth quarter.” Amazon would be a mighty big swan song.

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In related news, Secretary of State Brian Kemp has an op-ed in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on why Atlanta – er, Georgia – should be the “obvious” choice for the $5 billion expansion. This sentence is key:

“By coupling a robust incentive package that benefits hardworking Georgians with a proven track record of pro-business government, Georgia can lure Amazon (and their 50,000 advertised jobs) without having to compromise her values or sell-out to the special interests.”

Kemp has backed legal protections for conservative Christians who, out of religious conviction, would rather not do business with same-sex couples. Such legislation has proven to be a real turn-off in the dot.com world, in which Amazon is a big player.

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Remember Tommy Hunter, the Gwinnett County commissioner who faced protests and reprimands after calling U.S. Rep. John Lewis a “racist pig?” He’s holding a fundraiser next week for state Sen. Michael Williams, a Republican candidate for governor trying to position himself as the say-anything Donald Trump candidate in the race.

The two share the same political strategist, Seth Weathers, It comes weeks after Williams was on a PBS show about whether the U.S. was becoming more racist.

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A former Cherokee County school board member and her political consultant-turned-husband have been resentenced to 60 days in jail and two years’ probation for falsely accusing the county school superintendent of trying to run them over with his car, according to Kristal Dixon of Patch.com.

Robert and Kelly Trim were convicted on felony counts in 2014. The state Court of Appeals determined the offenses were misdemeanors.

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Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office has set Nov. 7 special elections to fill the state House seats being vacated by Bruce Broadrick, R-Dalton, and Kiesha Waites, D-Atlanta. Broadrick resigned for health reasons. Waites has joined the race for chairmanship of the Fulton County Commission.

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