Rep. Mo Brooks, running for Senate in the Alabama special election, faces a Republican primary challenge for his House seat in 2018 if he doesn't advance.
Clayton Hinchman, a 34-year-old businessman who lost his right leg fighting in combat in Iraq, has launched a bid for northern Alabama's 5th Congressional district.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Hinchman was hesitant to be too critical of Brooks, who escaped unharmed the shooting targeting Republicans as they practiced last month for a charity baseball game.
But after some prodding, Hinchman said that he believes Brooks has prioritized ideology over pragmatism. His pitch to voters is that he will put the 5th District's economy over the preferences of the House Freedom Caucus.
"We have a huge defense community here," he said Sunday in a telephone interview. "Voting to shut down the government, and against defense appropriations bills are not the values you should stand for as an elected leader. I'm extremely pro-business."
Brooks, an amiable firebrand, is a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, which used its clout to sink the original version of the House GOP Obamacare repeal bill before negotiating a deal to help pass a revised bill.
Hinchman said he would not seek to join the group.
Hinchman, a married father of two young children, announced his campaign after Brooks launched his Senate bid, but said he would have run anyway and was forced to move up his timeline to stay competitive with any other Republicans who might be eying the solidly conservative 5th district. Hinchman graduated from West Point. An Airborn Ranger, he lost his leg above the knee when he stepped on a pressure-wire improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2008.
His entrance into the contest could up the pressure on Brooks, who is under attack from the Senate Leadership Fund, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's super PAC.
The group is backing appointed Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., in the Aug. 15 special primary, with the top two finishers advancing to a runoff if the victor is held below 50 percent. The winner of the special earns the right to serve the remainder the term Jeff Sessions vacated to become President Trump's attorney general.
Alabama Republicans revere President Trump, and Brooks is dodging grenades from SLF and other Strange allies for being slow to come around to Trump in 2016 after initially endorsing Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
So perhaps its not surprising that the general consultant Hinchman signed to guide his House race is Ward Baker, who advises SLF and worked closely with McConnell in 2014 and 2016 when he was a top hand at the NRSC, the Senate GOP campaign arm. Hinchman's candidacy ups the pressure on Brooks who has a formidable war chest but might not have a resources advantage over Hinchman if he blows his campaign cash on the Senate race and loses.
Trump won 64.7 percent of the vote in Brooks' district. Hinchman signaled that he could adopt similar attacks on Brooks' lack of sufficient loyalty Trump, although, least for now, he appears to be keeping his powder dry on that front.
"I definitely support President Trump. However I also believe you hold elected leaders accountable for the things they do and say," Hinchman said.
He later added that it was clear from the beginning of the presidential campaign Trump was going to win big in Alabama, but that Brooks, in another example of his failing to listen to his constituents, backed Cruz anyway.
"Up until the last minute he wasn't supportive of the president," Hinchman said. "Now that he's running or the Senate, he's completely come back around and said he supports the president."