Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill announced this morning he will run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Doug Jones.
Merrill held a press conference at the state Capitol to say that he will seek the Republican nomination for the seat in the March 3 primary.
Merrill joins a field of GOP candidates that includes U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Fairhope, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, state Rep. Arnold Mooney of Shelby County, and Haleyville businessman Stanley Adair.
Jones, the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Alabama, is running for reelection. Jones defeated Moore in a special election in December 2017.
Merrill is a former state legislator who was elected secretary of state in 2014. Voters elected him to a second term last year.
Merrill described himself as a proven conservative reformer and said he decided to run for the Senate after strong encouragement from a number of people.
“This is not something that I have pursued,” Merrill said. “This is something that pursued me because people have continued to bring up to me the need to have a conservative reformer who’s a proven winner to offer themselves as a candidate for this United States Senate seat. And as one candidate after the other continued to come out, there was nobody that was meeting that bill. Nobody that was setting themselves apart and saying, ‘I’m the person that the people of Alabama need to get behind and to move forward supporting so that we can make sure that we take this Senate seat back and give it to the people of Alabama.’”
Political commentator Steve Flowers, an author and former state lawmaker, said Merrill becomes one of the top contenders.
“The polls won’t initially show how strong he really is,” Flowers said. “The initial polls are based on name identification, and Moore is showing about 30 percent. Byrne and Merrill will emerge as the frontrunners in this race.”
Flowers said he expects Moore’s poll numbers to decline and predicted a Byrne-Merrill runoff.
“But I see Moore’s people supporting Merrill in the runoff,” Flowers said. “So I would say if you made me bet, Merrill is the Republican nominee when all is said and done next year. I think he beats Jones easily.”
Immigration was the first issue Merrill brought up. He said both parties are to blame for what he called a “fiasco.”
“We have to have someone go to Washington D.C. that is going to support the president and help the president build the wall to stop the immigration fiasco that’s currently ongoing in our nation,” Merrill said. “Now, I have people that ask me from time to time, ‘What’s it going to take to solve the immigration problem?’ That’s very clear. Until we decide that Democrats are gonna quit using the immigration conversation as a cash cow and until Republicans are gonna stop using the immigration conversation as a cash cow to raise money for campaigns, we’re not going to get anything done.”
Merrill said he and his staff have made voter registration a priority, traveling to every county and using technology to set registration records. He said the office has become more efficient while reducing the staff from 49 employees to 36.