Alabama Candidate Cautiously Accepts Sudden GOP Interest

Posted June 2, 2010 at 8:32pm

Last year the National Republican Congressional Committee came calling for Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks (R) as it looked to target Alabama’s 5th district in the general election.

But the phone went silent when Rep. Parker Griffith suddenly went from foe to friend with his December switch from Democrat to Republican.

Brooks handily defeated Griffith in a three-way primary Tuesday to secure the nomination without the need for a runoff, and the phone has started ringing again.

By Wednesday afternoon, Brooks had taken congratulatory calls from NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and GOP Members from the Alabama delegation, and the NRCC had initiated discussions with Brooks’ camp about infrastructure, fundraising and staffing as it looks to keep the seat in GOP hands in November.

Brooks, who ran his campaign with one paid staffer and a shoestring budget that was smaller than either of his two primary opponents’ war chests, says he’s taking the new relationship slow.

“This is not my first rodeo,” said Brooks, a former state Representative who has also run for lieutenant governor. “I have a pretty good feel for how to run campaigns, but I’m not going to say I have total knowledge. … I think the NRCC has expertise that may be valuable to our campaign, and I’m certainly going to listen to what is presented.”

Brooks said he intends to travel to Washington within the next two weeks to hear what the committee has to say.

However, he cautioned, “the NRCC is not going to take things over. I’m going to be the ultimate decision-maker on every strategic decision.”

Brooks earned the support of GOP activists and tea party groups that viewed Griffith as an establishment candidate, and tea partiers helped lead a protest this year outside a Griffith fundraiser that was headlined by House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

But Brooks said all Republicans will pull together in the general election. “Working with people to achieve a common goal, i.e., the election of a new Speaker of the House, that only enhances my relationship with the NRCC and the tea parties and voters in the 5th Congressional district,” he said. “Everybody comes together on that issue.”

NRCC spokesman Andy Sere was in agreement Tuesday.

“We look forward to working with Mo Brooks to keep this seat in the Republican column,” Sere said. “We will be helpful in whatever ways his campaign deems fit.”

Next Step: Fundraising

The removal of Griffith’s fundraising machine, as well as the creation of an open seat in a district that has not elected a Republican Representative since Reconstruction, has renewed Democrats’ hopes of reclaiming the seat that Griffith took from them when he left the party late last year.

The first battle that Brooks and Democrat Steve Raby will fight in the general election will be on the fundraising front.

Both showed close to $300,000 in receipts in the runup to the primary, but Raby actually raised more money than Brooks when the Madison County commissioner’s $100,000 personal loan is taken into account.

During the primary, Raby raised about 20 percent of his money from outside the state. During the general election, the former Congressional aide and political consultant will likely draw on both those previous roles to help boost his national fundraising network.

Brooks relied mostly on local connections to raise money during the primary, because the national party was firmly behind Griffith. Brooks raised less than 10 percent of his total contributions from outside the state, a total that the national party will try to increase now that it has embraced him as its candidate in the fall.

On the message front, Democrats hope that Raby’s business connections to the defense and aerospace industries, as well as his work for more than a decade for popular former Sen. Howell Heflin (D), will play well in the district.

Republicans are already gearing up to paint Raby as a liberal who has a history of donating to liberal icons like Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who aren’t exactly popular in a seat that lies deep in the heart of Dixie. Republicans will also try to paint Raby’s work for his communication firm as little more than a lobbying gig.

Meanwhile, Democrats have already picked up on some of the attacks that Griffith tried to use against Brooks in the primary. In a release Tuesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hit Brooks for claiming to be a fiscal conservative while securing discretionary dollars for pet projects through his county commissioner post.

Democrats privately say they also intend to paint Brooks, who has earned tea party support and has been known to call President Barack Obama a socialist, as a polarizing figure whose views are too extreme, even in a historically conservative seat like the 5th.

The news releases will certainly be plentiful, but with a national environment that continues to favor Republicans in so many places this cycle, it remains to be seen whether the party will commit the financial resources needed to truly put the 5th district in play.