Tomorrow, there are two major elections: a special Senate runoff in Alabama and a mayoral primary in Boston, as well as a key legislative special in Florida. Polls close at 8p ET in both Alabama and Boston (7p ET in Florida) and we will be liveblogging.
AL-Sen Runoff: The big race tomorrow is a GOP primary runoff for Alabama’s Senate seat. The special election was moved up to this year by now-Gov. Kay Ivey (R) after she ascended to the top job. The August primary narrowed the field down from four major Republican candidates to two for this runoff.
Appointed incumbent Luther Strange (R) made a somewhat, well, strange, decision in regards to this race. Despite the fact that as AG his office was investigating then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R) for covering up a sex scandal, Strange accepted an appointment to the Senate from Bentley. The appointment decision was in spite of the fact that Strange had statewide name recognition that would have made him the prohibitive favorite for an open seat race. Strange’s handling of the appointment, which raised blindlingly obvious questions of impropriety, has become a major liability for him in this race. And with the race moved up from 2018, he doesn’t have a lot of Senate service record to distract from the appointment mess. Strange came in second in the preliminary round with 33%; while that is a poor showing for an incumbent, it was something of a victory for Strange as some polls had shown him in danger of missing the runoff entirely. Strange’s biggest asset in this race has been his close establishment ties, particularly to Mitch McConnell; McConnell and his associated forces have not hesitated to use every card at their disposal for Strange. Thus, he has been the beneficiary of a sustained negative ad barrage against his opponents. Strange has also been able to land Trump’s endorsement and a rally from the president last Friday. But it may not matter in the end; all polls of the runoff have shown him down, though by varying margins. CW is that Strange is still ultimately a mild to moderate underdog tomorrow. However, Strange does seem to have been narrowing the gap in polling in recent weeks and there is a chance the Trump rally could give him a late boost to surprise.
Strange’s rival, and the front-runner for the seat, is ex-State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (R). If Strange has baggage of a typical political-insider nature, Moore has equal baggage in his out-of-the-mainstream ideology. Moore’s first stint on the state Supreme Court ended with his removal after he refused to take down a statue of the Ten Commandments in front of the courthouse. After being re-elected to the court in 2012, Moore was removed again over ordering state officials to disregard SCOTUS’s Obergefell decision. Moore has a dedicated base of social conservatives, but is something of a one-note character on religious issues. Indeed, Moore made a notable gaffe in the runoff campaign when he appeared to have no idea what the DACA program was. That single-minded focus on religious social conservatism could make him a tough sell to less-devout Republicans. That said, Alabama is still among the most religious states in the nation, and his evangelical base was still enough to put Moore in a comfortable first in the primary with 39%. Moore is also an easy fit for antiestablishment voters, due to his quixotic nature and Strange’s establishment ties. Indeed, Strange’s establishment backing (and negative ads) have pushed the two antiestablishment-leaning major eliminated candidates, Rep. Mo Brooks (R) and State Sen. Trip Pittman (R), to endorse Moore. Moore held wide leads in polls of the runoff after the primary, and has led in every released poll since the first round. However, his margins have been narrowing in recent weeks, and Strange does seem to have some momentum. If Strange is successful at selling himself as the stronger Trumpist, it’s likely Alabamans will gravitate to that message over Moore’s theocratic one. That said, Moore is still (at the very least) a moderate favorite to prevail tomorrow, and it would be at least somewhat surprising if he didn’t ultimately pull out a win. A Moore nomination would be a quite bitter pill to swallow for McConnell and establishment Republicans after their extensive involvement in the race; Moore is about as good a bet as any to be a difficult-to-work-with loose cannon in the Senate.
The winner will face ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D) in a December general. Jones, who sewed up his primary against token opposition in the first round, is a relatively generic moderate Democrat, but he is still the most credible contender than Democrats have put up for an Alabama Senate seat since 2002. It’s hard to tell which of the two Republicans would be a stronger general election candidate against Jones; while Moore has very well-defined vulnerabilities, Strange has not come out of this campaign looking good himself. And Strange’s corruption stink may have more salience than Moore’s extreme social conservatism in a very socially conservative state that has just seen corruption scandals. All in all though it may not matter who Republicans nominate; Alabama is still a very red, very inelastic state, and it’s hard to think such a Trump-friendly area will hand a seat to a Democrat. For now Jones has been flying under the radar and hoping to spark some interest after the GOP settles on a nominee, but we continue to consider either GOP nominee an extremely strong favorite in the general. RRH Elections currently rates this general election as Safe R.
Boston-Mayor: The other election of the day is the California-Rules Top Two primary for Mayor of Boston, which is basically a straw poll as there are only two major candidates. Boston has a population of 675K and a PVI D+33 (2016), which breaks down as roughly 45% White, 25% Black, 20% Hispanic, and 10% Asian. In spite of Boston’s reputation as a student/hipster/upscale liberal town, most of those sit outside the city limits in Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline, and those within Boston are low-turnout and largely irrelevant in local elections. Instead, elections are dominated by moderate white ethnics: the city includes a huge section of high-turnout middle-class-white suburban territory in the southwest (West Roxbury) and some urban poor white ethnic neighborhoods. The only other real bloc in municipal elections is the minority community: Boston has a large Black community in the south-central part of the city, and a Hispanic community in East Boston. This year, incumbent Mayor Marty Walsh (D) is seeking a second term. Walsh is a union-backed white ethnic Dem who won a close race in 2013 and has been a mainstream to slightly moderate liberal in office. Walsh has been relatively popular and has long been considered a strong favorite for re-election; indeed, it was something of an open question whether he would get a serious challenger at all. Walsh did draw a serious rival, however, in councilman (not that) Tito Jackson (D), who represents the African-American heavy Roxbury neighborhood. Jackson is attempting to run to Walsh’s left, but he remains little-known outside his district and there isn’t an obvious reservoir of discontent with Walsh to tap into. A third non-serious candidate, insurance agent Joe Wiley (D), triggered the preliminary round. Rumor is that Walsh put Wiley up as a plant to trigger the preliminary round (it would have been canceled with only two candidates) and give Jackson an embarrassing preliminary result to keep him from gaining momentum. CW is that the gamble will work, as Walsh has been leading in polls by around 2:1 and it would be a surprise if the results tomorrow will look much different than that. However, if Jackson did better than expected it could give him momentum ahead of the real thing in November.
Legislative Specials: There are also three notable legislative specials this week. Two are hotly-contested generals in Dade County, Florida. The biggest race is for FL-SD-40, an R-held Hispanic-Majority D+8 (2016) seat around Kendall in the southwest suburbs of Miami. This seat shifted strongly for Clinton last year, but it is Cuban machine territory to its core. More importantly for the current national climate, the Dem base here is mostly minorities (blacks and non-Cuban Hispanics), who are likely to be low-turnout, with super-energized white liberals basically a non-entity here. State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R) is facing off tomorrow with perennial candidate Annette Taddeo-Goldstein (D). Diaz is considered a credible candidate and has strong machine backing. Likewise, Taddeo-Goldstein, who has run for office 5 times in the last 10 years (and come close multiple times but never won), is getting major outside support. In spite of the blue top-of-the-ticket lean of the seat, this race looks like a pure Tossup. Additionally, with Irma having just impacted the area and shut off power for several days this month to almost all the district’s residents, low turnout is likely. It’s unclear who that might help; Dems are super-energized nationally, but the Cuban GOP machine is excellent at rustling up votes for low-turnout races (with an army of absentee-ballot-rustlers called boleteros). Overall there is no clear favorite here tomorrow. In the same area, FL-LD-116 is an R-held D+1 (2016) seat covering southwest Miami suburbs around Kendall. This is the seat that Diaz gave up to run for SD-40, and overlaps with the central part of the Senate district. Attorney Daniel Perez (R), who won a closely-contested and nasty primary, looks to be favored over former anti-Chavista Venezuelan legislator Gabriela Mayaudon (D), as Mayaudon doesn’t seem to be running a serious campaign. However, in this purple a seat with the current national climate an upset can’t be counted out. The least interesting special to cover is in SC-LD-31, a D+23 (2016) seat covering central and western Spartanburg. Spartanburg councilwoman Rosalyn Henderson-Meyers (D) is the prohibitive favorite over 2016 nominee Michael Fowler (R).