The idea of Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigning his post to run a write-in campaign for his old Alabama Senate seat – and thereby thwarting the chances of embattled GOP nominee Roy Moore – is all the rage in Washington right now.
This quote, from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell Tuesday, sums it up:
“It appears as if the only option would be a write-in and that’s very seldom successful, although we’ve had an example of it in 2010. Lisa Murkowski from Alaska lost the primary, ran a write-in campaign in the general election and actually won. So, why did she win? She was totally well-known and extremely popular. And the name being the most often discussed may not be available, but the Alabamian who would fit that standard would be the attorney general, who is totally well-known and extremely popular in Alabama.”
All of which sounds good! Moore is clearly an albatross for national Republicans following accusations that he pursued sexual relationship with five girls between the ages of 14 and 18 while he was a district attorney in his early 30s. But Moore retains an incredibly loyal following within some parts of Alabama and could still win the special election to replace Session on December 12.
Since Moore won’t withdraw – and his name would stay on the ballot even if he did – the idea of a Sessions’ write-in candidacy looks like one of the only ways to solve what is rapidly becoming an intractable problem for Republicans.
But while the idea of a Sessions’ write-in campaign might sound like the panacea for the GOP’s Moore problem, there’s plenty of reasons to be skeptical. Four to be exact.
1. Sessions doesn’t want to do this.
It’s easy – too easy – to think of all politicians as pieces on a chessboard. Just move them around to get the outcome that you want. But, that overlooks the facts that these are human beings. And human beings usually do what they want, not what you or Mitch McConnell wants.
In the case of Sessions, he has repeatedly made clear – as recently as Tuesday – that serving as AG is his dream job. And, think about this: Sessions refused to resign even after Trump called him “beleaguered” and told The New York Times he never would have hired Sessions if he knew the former Alabama Senator was going to recuse himself in the Russia probe. So, why would he go now?
2. Write-in campaigns are hard.
There’s a tendency to focus on Murkowski’s winning bid in 2010 – as McConnell is doing. But prior to Murkowski’s win, the last senator to be elected in a write-in campaign was Strom Thurmond in 1954(!). “Write-in campaigns are very, very hard to do successfully,” acknowledged Steven Law, who heads a Senate GOP super PAC, to on CNN Wednesday.
3. The Murkowski comparison isn’t perfect.
Yes, Murkowski won. But, she also announced her write-in campaign almost two months before the general election. Sessions, even if he could be convinced to run, would have three weeks (or less).
And, while “Sessions” is a well known name in Alabama, it’s not as well known as “Murkowski” was/is in Alaska. While Lisa Murkowski was seeking a second Senate term in her write-in race, her father, Frank, spent more than two decades representing Alaska in the Senate and another four years – from 2002 to 2006 – as its governor.
Then there is the raw number of write-in votes. Murkowski won the general election with 101,000 votes. In his 2014 general election race – running without a Democratic opponent – Sessions received just short of 800,000 votes. Getting 100,000 people to write in your name is one thing. Getting, say, 450,000 to do the same is something else altogether.
4. Moore is a known commodity – and he’s not going anywhere.
Unlike in Alaska, where Joe Miller came from nowhere to beat Murkowski in the Republican primary and then watched as his campaign collapsed amid a series of ethical questions, Moore has been a staple of Alabama’s most conservative wing for decades. The man has been elected twice as the state’s Supreme Court Justice – despite having been removed from the job the first time! He won the Senate primary and a runoff convincingly despite running against an appointed senator who had the backing of not only the Republican establishment but also President Donald Trump.
And, despite the mounting allegations and rapidly increasing number of prominent Republicans calling for him to step aside, Moore remains totally defiant. There is absolutely no reason to think that even if Sessions could be convinced to run as a write-in candidate, Moore would drop from the race or slow his campaigning. All of which would mean that Moore and Sessions might well split the GOP base vote – allowing attorney Doug Jones, a Democrat, a real chance to win.
In short: Next time – and it will probably be in the next 15 minutes – you hear someone floating the idea of a Sessions’ write-in candidacy, be skeptical.