An early leader has emerged in the race to replace one of the most outspoken 2020 presidential election objectors in Congress.
Fundraising reports due Thursday showed Dale Strong, the Madison County Commission chair, leading what’s for now a pack of four primary contenders vying to replace Republican Rep. Mo Brooks in northern Alabama. Brooks, a Freedom Caucus member and top ally of Donald Trump, is running for the state’s open Senate seat.
Strong reported raising more than $430,000—including a $40,000 personal loan—through two quarters, about four times more than the next candidate.
Still, Republicans in the state said the primary, which will decide the next representative in this solidly red district, is just getting started.
John Wahl, chair of the Alabama Republican Party, said that a “fresh crop of candidates and an open seat” mean the race will likely be more competitive and more expensive than previous contests.
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Brooks hasn’t endorsed any of the candidates, and it’s unclear how closely any of the current contenders will follow in his political footsteps if elected.
First elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, the conservative firebrand denounced “squishy RINOs” in his Senate announcement and urged attendees at the pro-Trump rally in Washington on Jan. 6 to “start taking down names and kicking ass,” which Democrats said helped incite the violence at the Capitol. Brooks finished third in the 2017 Senate special election primary, which Roy Moore emerged from before losing in the general.
Strong has served on the Madison County commission for 26 years and as the commission’s first Republican chairman since 2012. His local experience and popularity have launched him ahead of his challengers in the Republican primary, political consultants say.
The conservative elected official is against abortion rights and is a strong proponent of Trump and the Second Amendment. He opposes big government spending and hopes to take the tagline from his county commission campaign—“Do More With Less”—to Washington, D.C.
He faces competition from Casey Wardynski, a former Huntsville City Schools superintendent and assistant secretary to the Army under former President Donald Trump—a fact mentioned in the first sentence of his campaign bio. Wardynski raised $106,000 in the quarter.
As an Army official, Wardynski developed a talent management strategy to improve the culture and efficiency of the military branch. As superintendent, according to his campaign website, he oversaw an increase in graduation rates from 66% to 88% and turned around the system’s financial situation. Local media reported he also faced plenty of criticism for his tactics and abruptly resigned from his post in 2016 after confirming a relationship with and intent to marry the CEO of a company with a contract to help the school district alleviate behavioral issues.
The current roster of declared Republican candidates also includes Andy Blalock, a Huntsville teacher and ranch owner, and Harrison Wright. Blalock would be the first openly gay man to represent the 5th District if he’s elected.
“You have to figure that maybe Wardynski and Strong have the same sort of base that they might split in the Huntsville-Limestone area, and then that leaves an opening for a candidate for either of the other geographical regions of the district,” said David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant.
The 5th District lines will likely continue to encompass the Huntsville-Decatur area after the redistricting process, and it will remain a Republican bastion.
Mowery said “the smart candidate” should be able to comment on hot-button national issues such as critical race theory and cancel culture, but that they should also have a solid foundation on Huntsville issues.
A primary concern among voters is the ongoing success of Redstone Arsenal, an Army garrison that houses various federal defense agencies and employs more than 35,000 people. The U.S. Air Force chose Redstone Arsenal in January as the preferred new location for the U.S. Space Command headquarters. The Space Command, charged with protecting and defending the space domain, was reactivated under the Trump administration.
“I do think that the winning candidate is going to be the one that somehow communicates that they are going to be the strongest advocate for Redstone Arsenal,” Mowery said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Sadek in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org