The path seems to be clear for the only declared Democratic candidate, outsider Ron Crumpton, to challenge Republican Richard Shelby for his Senate seat in the 2016 election.

Crumpton, an advocate of medical marijuana, would be a new type of candidate for Alabama Democrats.

He has never held a political office — though he did run unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat. He also holds few ties to the democratic establishment, which was once successful at the state level.

A Crumpton candidacy would be more progressive than Alabama Democrats are accustomed to.

What name recognition he holds in the state, stems largely from his advocacy of medical marijuana.  While medical marijuana has become a staple of the democratic platform in many states, this trend has not included Alabama. Crumpton, has served as the Executive Director of the Alabama Patients’ Rights Coalition, Executive Director of the Alabama Safe Access Project (ASAP) and has lobbied the Alabama Legislature for roughly five years in support of such causes.

His effort nearly paid off this past spring when medical marijuana legislation, authored by himself, nearly made it out of committee in the state Senate.

Crumpton holds other progressive stances including increasing the minimum wage, and supporting legislation authored by Senators Elizabeth Warren and John McCain aimed at reining in Wall Street.

However, this liberalism does not extend to some topics such as gun control. While the odds are long for Democrats in the state, under even the best of circumstances, Crumpton’s presence may make the 2016 Senate race an interesting one.

From the candidacies of the heavy drinking redneck liberal Big Jim Folsom to the controversial populist George Wallace, Alabama has had a long history of embracing outsider candidates. Given that perhaps 30,000 Alabamians turned out recently to see Donald Trump, Alabama voters may be in the mood to embrace nontraditional candidacies again.

With the filing deadline on the horizon, it seems unlikely that Shelby will face a high profile primary challenger, though a lesser tea party challenge may yet arise. As for the Democrats with the state party all but vanquished by party switchers, financial woes and several disastrous cycles, the odds of a mainstream challenger grows less and less likely.

While there is still time for someone like state House minority leader Craig Ford to throw his hat into the race, this has sparked virtually zero speculation.

The party’s aging bench of traditional candidates, such as former Justice Sue Bell Cobb, former Congressmen Parker Griffith and Bobby Bright have also yet to express an interest in the race.

As the popularity of marijuana reform grows, Crumpton’s record may allow him appeal beyond the state’s dwindling democratic base. If an anti-incumbent attitude continues to prevail, Shelby may have to at least work for his re-election.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

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