(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., expressed confidence in the Democratic Party’s position in the upcoming Alabama Senate race, where he said there is a “full-blown Republican civil, political war.”
“We all know it’s Alabama. That’s been tough territory for Democrats, and no one is kidding themselves how tough politically Alabama has been,” the Democratic senator from Maryland told ABC News’ Powerhouse Politics podcast Wednesday, adding, “On the other hand, we have a terrific candidate.”
The runoff for the Republican primary to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general is Sept. 26. President Donald Trump has endorsed incumbent appointed Sen. Luther Strange and plans to visit on Friday. Vice President Mike Pence will also campaign for Strange in Alabama on Monday.
Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, however, are backing Judge Roy Moore, who was twice elected to the Alabama Supreme Court and removed for defying court orders.
Van Hollen, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) for the 2018 cycle and tasked with fighting to hold Senate seats, said he does not plan to reassess the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, based on who wins the Alabama GOP primary.
“I think Doug Jones is going to energize a lot of voters to come out, and I’m not sure, after a bitter Republican primary, that’s going to be the case on the Republican side,” Van Hollen told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein, adding, “Republicans have just gone through months of beating the hell out of each other.”
Jones was appointed U.S. attorney in Birmingham, Alabama, by former President Bill Clinton in 1997. He was the lead prosecutor in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case that killed four African-American girls. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, and former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Jones in August. Biden is expected to hold a rally for Jones on Oct. 3.
There has not been a Democratic senator in Alabama since 1997, when Sessions succeeded Howell T. Heflin.
When asked to predict the Senate election map, Van Hollen said, “It’s a very tough map. Here’s what we’re gonna do: We’re gonna fight like hell to hold the blue wall in the United States Senate.”
Democrats will be defending 25 of 33 seats. Ten of those seats are from states Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.
Van Hollen also discussed the GOP’s latest efforts to ditch former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act as the crucial deadline nears.
“I think it’s the wrong thing to do for the country. It’s going to totally screw up our health care system,” the senator said of the Graham-Cassidy bill. “I think they will not only hurt lots of Americans, but I think, politically, they’re going to have to be held accountable.”
He said he welcomes lots of ideas, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ latest bill for a government-run, single-payer health care system — dubbed “Medicare for All” — but insisted that the focus right now is to prevent the GOP from “blowing up” the Affordable Care Act.
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