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Montgomery Advertiser: Luther Strange ‘Shies Away’ From Lobbyist Past in AL Sen Campaign

Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) is avoiding discussion of his past in his campaign for U.S. Senate according to the Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman.

In a profile on Strange published Thursday in the Advertiser, Alabama’s largest daily newspaper, Lyman noted Strange isn’t talking much about his past, particularly in promoting his campaign for U.S. Senate.

It’s a deliberate strategy. In a brief phone interview Wednesday, the U.S. senator said that he believed voters wanted to hear more about his stands.

“I think people are focused on the issues,” said Strange. “And the issues that are top of the list is who’s best qualified to support the president’s agenda.”

But it’s also a strategy that in the past has allowed opponents — sometimes successfully, sometimes not — to define Strange, focusing on his past as a successful lobbyist; as former Gov. Robert Bentley’s appointed successor and as an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blamed in some conservative circles for the failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Strange’s time as a lobbyist is well documented. Lyman noted Strange’s role at Sonat Inc., a Birmingham-based oil and natural gas company, where he ran the firm’s Washington DC office.

In 2002, Strange was writing checks to multiple candidates in a 2002 Republican primary race for Alabama’s first congressional district seat. Both Tom Young, a former staffer for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), and former Rep. Jo Bonner (R-AL), also a former congressional staffer, sought contributions from Strange according to a March 23, 2002 Washington Post story by Juliet Eilperin.

“It’s just the nature of the game,” said Birmingham lobbyist Luther Strange, who is friends with both men. “Both of these candidates have to raise a lot of money to get their names out there.”

Strange has already gotten caught in the crossfire. Bonner called him for a contribution the weekend before Callahan announced his retirement, and Strange promptly sent a $ 1,000 check. A day or two later, Young asked Strange to support his campaign. Now Strange is considering another donation.

“As soon as I talk to my wife and she gives me the checkbook, I’m going to [send] a check to Tom,” Strange said.

Lyman pointed out in his story that the lobbyist issue came up in Strange’s failed bid for Alabama lieutenant governor. Strange was in a contest with George Wallace, Jr., the son of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, for the 2006 GOP lieutenant governor’s nod in Alabama. Strange would win the nomination but would lose in the general election to Democrat Jim Folsom, Jr., another son of a former Alabama governor.

Wallace, who declined to comment for this story, hit Strange on his lobbying background, which Strange said in a 2006 interview was both a “small part” of his legal portfolio and a “huge strength” because it helped him understand the political process.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.org, a website that tracks political contributions, Strange had given at least $32,000 to various candidates and political causes dating back to 1991.

Strange is in a runoff contest against former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore slated for September 26 for the Republican nomination. The winner of that contest will face former Clinton U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee, on December 12.

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor

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