U.S. Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the Senate’s fourth most senior member, has told confidantes that he does not intend to run for reelection next year — prompting some Republicans to urge the powerful, establishment politician to reconsider, even as potential replacements prepare to run for his seat.
The senator in recent weeks told one close Alabama ally that he was not planning on running in 2022 for what would be his seventh term, according to the ally, who was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The person said some in the state were still trying to get Shelby to change his mind out of concern about losing clout and worries that the senator might be replaced by a fringe candidate who would not be as effective.
Shelby spokeswoman Blair Taylor said Friday that the senator has not made a decision, “but there will likely be an announcement forthcoming in the next few weeks.”
A titan of Alabama politics, the 86-year-old politician has spent 42 years in Washington, serving first in the House and the Senate. His stepping down would leave a power void for the region. It would also set off a free-for-all primary in a national party deeply divided between traditional Republicans like Shelby and those who model themselves on former President Donald Trump.
Shelby was elected to the Senate in 1986 as a conservative Democrat during the party’s waning days of power in the Deep South, but he switched to the GOP in 1994. He's spent the last two years as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, before Democrats gained control of the chamber. All along he has used his influence to benefit the state's interests, particularly ports and military manufacturers. He played a key role in bringing an FBI campus and the newly announced Space Command to Huntsville.
“I don’t know anybody who knows how to wield power like Shelby does," said David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant.
“I would say that is his greatest accomplishment, to get money allocated to the state for many different projects,” said former Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead.
Alabama's political circles have long braced for a Shelby retirement. Armistead said the senator told him during his 2016 bid for reelection that it was his last campaign, but Armistead added the caveat that, “Things change.” Several months ago, Shelby told a group of business leaders at a private meeting that he would retire rather than run again, according to a person in attendance who was not authorized to discuss the event and also spoke on condition of anonymity.
A list of potential GOP replacements is waiting in the wings. Possible candidates include Shelby’s former chief of staff, Katie Boyd Britt, who now heads an influential business lobby and who would likely have the senator’s backing if she decided to enter the race. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, who suspended his 2020 Senate campaign when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions jumped in the race, said he would consider a run. Rep. Mo Brooks is also expected to eye the seat. Brooks has faced criticism for his role in the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol. At a rally before the deadly riot, he told the crowd it was time for “taking down names and kicking ass,” but has maintained since that he was talking about fighting at the ballot box.
I'd love to see Doug Jones get another crack at this seat for the Dems, but I'd have to admit that much like Jaime Harrison or Amy McGrath's quixotic attempts that ended up in double-digit failures, Jones would lose by an even larger margin than the 20-point asskicking he took from Tommy Tuberville.
Then again, with the GOP all but assuring there will be massive Black voter disenfranchisement in the years ahead at the red state level, Jones could lose by 30 points next time around, as would any Democrat.