Trump loyalist Gaetz eyes Senate bid in Alabama
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of President Trump’s most devoted loyalists on Capitol Hill who represents the Florida Panhandle, has told GOP colleagues he is considering moving across the state line to run for the Senate in Alabama in 2020, several House lawmakers told The Hill.
Some of those discussions took place as recently as Thursday. The rumor had been bouncing around the Capitol for weeks but took a more serious turn in recent days when Gaetz began privately discussing the idea with fellow lawmakers.
“He’s talking about running for Senate in Alabama. They have a one-day residency requirement there,” said a GOP lawmaker who knows Gaetz well. “POTUS [President of the United States] would probably endorse him.”
Sources close to Gaetz, 36, said that “people in Trump’s orbit” are personally encouraging the sophomore congressman to run for the Senate seat now held by freshman Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.). Those Trump allies are pointing to Alabama’s liberal requirement that people can run for the Senate so long as they are 30 years old and have been a resident for a minimum of one day.
If Gaetz jumps in, he would be pitted against Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) in the GOP primary. Byrne, 64, has been traversing the Yellowhammer State for nearly a year to meet with voters and officially launched his Senate bid in February.
Byrne raised $1.2 million for his campaign in the first quarter of 2019; he has more than $2 million cash on hand.
While Byrne is also considered a dependable Trump ally, Gaetz is a ubiquitous presence on Fox News, the president’s favorite channel, where Gaetz has quickly burnished a reputation as one of Trump’s most vocal and aggressive defenders in Congress.
“The Florida Panhandle is just like Mississippi and Alabama — it’s Trump country, and he’s probably got one of the best districts for Trump. Sometimes that’s all it takes,” explained a fellow GOP congressman from Florida. “He can probably win.”
As he descended the steps of the Capitol on Thursday, Gaetz said he had no immediate plans to drop his reelection bid in the House and run for the Senate. But he conceded that the idea had been raised in recent discussions with supporters.
“I had a few people make mention to me that Alabama has a very short residency requirement, but it’s not something I’ve looked at myself,” Gaetz told The Hill in a brief interview. “I think that my most likely path would be to seek reelection in the House.”
Byrne’s candidacy is causing heartburn in some conservative circles. The outside group Club for Growth last month released an internal poll showing that Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, would have a double digit lead in a potential head-to-head Senate primary matchup with Byrne.
Brooks has been telling Republicans that he’ll get in if Trump wants him. Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville’s name also has been floated in recent days.
In a brief exchange, Bryne told The Hill that Gaetz had not informed him of any plans to move across the state border and challenge him in the Senate GOP primary. He had no further comment.
Gaetz “hasn’t said anything to me,” Byrne said.
Jones, a former federal prosecutor who upset Republican Roy Moore in a Senate special election in 2017, said he had heard nothing about a potential challenge by Gaetz.
“In today’s world of politics, who the hell knows what’s going to happen,” Jones told The Hill.
Juligrace Brufke contributed.
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