Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama has moved up the date of the special election to fill the state's Senate seat by more than a year.
The surprise move by the new governor, announced Tuesday, could undercut the political future of appointed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., and ignite a crowded Republican scramble for what has been a perennially safe Senate seat for the GOP in this conservative state.
The seat opened up when Jeff Sessions resigned to become President Trump's attorney general. Strange was appointed by former Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, to fill it until a special election could be held to determine who would hold it for the duration of the term Sessions' won in 2014.
Ivey took office just recently, replacing Bentley, who resigned under threat of impeachment by the Alabama legislature.
In a statement published on the governor's website, Ivey said she was moving up the special election to bring stability to a state rocked by Bentley's scandal. Rather than holding the contest concurrent with the 2018 midterm elections, as orginally planned, it is now scheduled for Aug. 15. If the winner doesn't top 50 percent, a runoff featuring the top two finishers would be held Sept. 26.
"I promised to steady our ship of state. This means following the law, which clearly states the people should vote for a replacement U.S. senator as soon as possible," Ivey said. "The new U.S. Senate special election dates this year are a victory for the rule of law."
Ivey's decision to could make it harder for Strange to distance himself from Bentley and establish himself as a true incumbent. It also could encourage a free-for all among aspiring Republicans. By moving the special to this year, members of Republican-heavy House delegation do not have to forgo re-election in order to make a run at this Senate seat.
"Someone like [Rep.] Mo Brooks [R-Ala.], with $1 million in cash on hand, could run with no penalty — totally free pass," a Republican insider said.
Brooks, a prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus, finished the first fundraising quarter of this year with $1.2 million in his re-election account.