Alabama Runoff Tests Unwritten Rules for Republicans

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) — Republican voters in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District today will determine which is the greater political sin: Thou shalt not criticize President Donald Trump or thou shalt not fraternize with Democrats.

No one took 50 percent+1 vote in the five-way primary in June, so incumbent Rep. Martha Roby faces former Rep. Bobby Bright in Tuesday’s runoff election for the congressional seat in the southeast corner of the state.

Alabama Republicans raised their eyebrows when Roby criticized Trump during his presidential campaign. In October 2016, soon after the “Access Hollywood” tape that recorded Trump making his “grab-her-by-the-pussy” comment, Roby tweeted that that was the last straw — she would not vote for him.

“Now, it is abundantly clear that the best thing for our country and our own party is for Trump to step aside and allow a responsible, respectable Republican to lead the ticket,” Roby’s tweeted.

Roby said later that she cast a write-in ballot for Mike Pence.

Roby defeated Bright and three others handily in the June 5 primary — 36,509 votes (39 percent) to Bright’s 26,297 (28.1 percent), but Bright forced today’s runoff.

Bright held the 2nd District seat from 2009 to 2011, as a Democrat. In this year’s campaign, he called himself as an outsider, who voted for Trump and will support his agenda. In one campaign ad, Bright is shown driving a pickup truck to a swamp in Lowndes County, pointing to the standing water and saying, “We’ve got a swamp to drain.”

Explaining his party switch, Bright told Courthouse News that he ran as a Democrat in the past because the Republican Party had picked a candidate and a conservative wing in the Democratic Party asked him to run.

“I had the label of a ‘D’ in front of my name, but I still served as a conservative,” Bright said. “And that’s what I will do in Washington as a Republican. I will still be that strong conservative that I was before.”

Bright said he has a real chance in today’s runoff, as 61 percent of voters cast ballots in June for someone other than Roby.

Roby spokeswoman Emily Taylor Johnson also assured Courthouse News that her candidate was confident, “But we are certainly not taking anything for granted.”

Trump endorsed Roby on June 22, despite her disavowal of him in 2016, calling her “consistent and reliable vote for our Make America Great Again Agenda” and denouncing Bright as a “recent Nancy Pelosi-voting Democrat.”

Roby has echoed that, attacking Bright for voting to make Rep. Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House when Bright was a Democrat, for voting for the Affordable Care Act, and for supporting Obama-era federal regulations.

“Throughout her time in Congress, Representative Roby has worked to reverse these damaging policies,” said Taylor Johnson said.

Roby has swamped Bright in fund raising, with $2.1 million, according to federal filings, while Bright has raised $97,000, in addition to $300,000 in his own loans to his campaign, according to his FEC filings.

Bright dismissed what he called Trump’s “soft endorsement” of Roby, calling it a result of deal-making with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

“(Ryan) went over and lobbied for her and got the president to do a real soft endorsement,” Bright told Courthouse News. “And I understand why the president did it, and I don’t hold that against him.”

Neither Montgomery County Republican Chairman Pat Wilson, Pike County Republican Chairman Donna Horn nor Elmore County Republican Chairman Bill Lewis — all counties involved in today’s runoff — responded to requests for comment. Nor did Becky Gerritson, president of the Wetumpka Tea Party, in Elmore County.

The winner today’s runoff will face Democratic candidate Tabitha Isner in November, though the district is expected to be a lock for any Republican.

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