Alabama State Sen. Trip Pittman (left), Dr. Randy Brinson (right)
The U.S. Senate race on the Republican side has been labeled a three-candidate competition, with former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore out in front, followed by U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and incumbent Luther Strange.
That’s been the message for over a month by political observers, strategists and the campaigns.
But don’t tell that to state Sen. Trip Pittman or Dr. Randy Brinson, two candidates viewed as “second-tier” challengers who are continuing to canvass the state ahead of the Aug. 15 primary.
“People are just starting to focus on this race,” said Pittman, R-Montrose. “I feel strong with the amount of support I’ve had. The feedback has been positive.”
Said Brinson, a Montgomery gastroenterologist and former chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama: “We are ready to go. We are going to be in OK shape.”
‘Keep the momentum’
Pittman and Brinson both said they are emboldened by a strong campaign finance reports; Pittman raised around $250,000 during the second quarter of the year, while Brinson said that between his own money and from contributions, he’s generated $200,000.
Brooks and Moore both report around $300,000 in donations.
Strange has been buoyed by support from political action committees backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He raised $1.8 million in the second quarter alone.
“I think we have some momentum,” said Pittman. “I’m fighting the battle with guys who have a lot of name ID and who have run statewide before. I have an uphill fight … But it’s not about me. I am running for those who care about the country. I have 3-1/2 weeks left and we’re trying to keep the momentum.”
Added Brinson: “There are a lot of push polls out there … but the sad thing is that they just have Moore, Strange and Brooks in these choices. You don’t see the rest of it. We have done some data and what we’ve found is that when we get our name ID out there, we are within the margin of error with the rest of the candidates.”
Pittman and Brinson have both noted that they are businessmen running in a field against long-entrenched politicians. Pittman owns and operators a tractor supply company in Daphne. Brinson is a longtime physician.
“I think people are looking for a record in the private sector and a record of service in addition to my service in the military … I’ve governed successfully, and fought Obamacare and have balanced budgets and paid back debts and passed complex legislation,” said Pittman, who has served in the Alabama state Senate for the past decade.
Brinson said his background in the private sector provides his candidacy a boost.
“So far, I think people are disgusted with the (Strange and Moore) ads and they are denigrating each other, which is predictable. The reason is because they are career politicians. I differ from the rest of the candidates in that I have detailed plans that are doable.”
Political observers have their doubts about Pittman and Brinson overcoming the odds.
“I have to say that I think it is too late for either Pittman or Brinson to greatly elevate their standing in current polls,” said William Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama.
Jess Brown, a retired political science professor at Athens State University, said Brooks, Moore, and Strange have a “core structural advantages” over the rest of the GOP field.
“I’m not saying ‘Mission Impossible,’ but I think that this thing is shaping up where you need in the neighborhood of 30 percent, or slightly more, to guarantee a slot in the runoff,” said Brown.
He added, “I just think as of today, that’s going to be a steep hill to climb for any candidate other than the three who entered the race with some kind of advantage. Moore entered the race with name ID, Strange entered the race with name recognition and money and at least bit of incumbency and Brooks entered the race with his strong base in the 5th Congressional District.”
Steve Flowers, an author whose weekly column about Alabama politics appears in more than 60 newspapers around the state, said the amount of money raised by Pittman and Brinson might not be enough to boost their name recognition statewide.
“They are good candidates and could be good senators, but I don’t see them within striking distance,” said Flowers.
But Flowers thinks there is one opportunity for lower-tier candidates to boost themselves in the waning weeks of the election. And that could be if the rift between President Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the former senator from Alabama, blows up.
U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, whose campaign for U.S. Senate has zeroed in on his support of President Trump’s agenda and who has labeled Rep. Mo Brooks as a “Never Trumper,” said the president’s recent criticize of Sessions is more out of “frustration.”
The other GOP candidates in the race include Bryan Peeples, Dr. James Beretta, Joseph Breault, and Mary Maxwell.
“That could benefit one of the way-back candidates if Strange and Brooks are running ads tying themselves to Trump and this thing with Sessions implodes,” said Flowers. “I’ve never seen anyone cozy up to someone like Strange and Brooks have done with Trump.”
He added, “Alabamians, and this is my perception on it, but their support for Trump will diminish significantly if he and Sessions were to part ways. Jeff Sessions trumps Trump in the Heart of Dixie.”
Stewart said that Pittman and Brinson could play a spoiler role, and draw enough votes that could push the GOP race into a Sept. 28 runoff.
But he doesn’t believe either have the resources to push themselves into that runoff.
“I would like to think that in our democracy there was always a chance for newcomers to enter the winner’s circle,” said Stewart. “But with the ‘Big Money’ playing the role like it does, along with TV advertising which ‘Big Money’ made possible, I believe it’s too late for guys like Pittman and Brinson to be competitive.”
‘Very good chance’
Pittman and Brinson said they are continuing their ground campaign. Pittman was making stops this week in Greenville to meet with a Rotary Club, before heading to Blount County to talk with the county’s GOP. Brinson was planning to spend the weekend campaigning in Baldwin and Mobile counties.
“I’m optimistic we can get into the runoff,” said Pittman.
Added Brinson, “We have a very good chance to get into the runoff.”