The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Retired Marine colonel to launch Senate write-in campaign in Alabama

Lee Busby is entering the contentious U.S. Senate race in Alabama only 14 days before Election Day. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

A retired Marine colonel who once served as a top aide to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly plans to launch a long-shot write-in campaign Monday afternoon to become Alabama’s next senator, with just 15 days left in the campaign.

Lee Busby, 60, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., said he thinks that the allegations of sexual impropriety against Republican nominee Roy Moore have created an opportunity for a centrist candidate to win more than a third of the state’s votes in the Dec. 12 special election.

“I think you can flip this thing. If this were a military operation, the left flank and the right flank are heavily guarded,” Busby said. “I think that gives you an opportunity to run straight up the middle.”

Trump continues to boost Roy Moore’s Senate bid as other Republicans keep distance

Busby, who was lacking any formal campaign structure or even a working website as of Monday morning, said he is counting on social media to spread the word about his campaign. He said he plans to run as an independent on his record as an investment banker, military leader and defense contractor and entrepreneur. He spent the weekend working on a logo and said he is just starting to explore the legal requirements for raising money for a campaign.

Busby retired from the Marine Corps in 2013 and has focused on his most recent passion, as a sculptor in clay of U.S. military veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars. His artistic work was recently featured in Southern Living.

“I just don’t believe that either one of them are qualified to be in the U.S. Senate,” Busby said of Moore and Democratic candidate Doug Jones, noting that both men’s professional experience was in the law. He said he attended a fundraiser for Jones this year but did not donate.

The scene in Alabama as Roy Moore and Doug Jones compete for the Senate seat

As for the allegations of Moore having inappropriate contact with teenage girls, which Moore has denied, Busby said he was not certain of the truth.

“It has created enough distaste in my mind,” he said. “As a voter, I don’t need to get to the bottom of it.”

Republican leaders in Washington and Alabama have effectively ruled out running a write-in campaign against Moore because they think it would split the Republican vote, all but ensuring a victory for Jones. Busby, who is divorced with four grown children, argued that his campaign could attract voters from Jones as well as Moore supporters.

“The people of Alabama are not going to be represented by someone who supports a liberal abortion policy,” Busby said. “I’m extremely concerned about the Democratic Party in Alabama. I don’t think they reflect Alabama’s views.”

Allegations against Roy Moore create awkward choice for suburban women in Alabama

Polls suggest that the race has tightened in recent weeks as Republican leaders in Washington have cut ties with Moore after the allegations against him were circulated. A Nov. 21 survey for the Raycom News Network found that about 3 percent of the state’s voters planned to write in a candidate’s name on Election Day. Under state law, write-in candidates will be counted as long as they are for a living person otherwise eligible for the office.

Busby said he voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 Republican presidential primary and Donald Trump in the general election. He said he supports Republican efforts to lower taxes, though he has not examined the House and Senate tax reform proposals. He said that he wants to repeal Obamacare and that life begins at conception, though there should be exceptions in antiabortion laws for cases of rape, incest or threats to the life of the mother.

“At some point, it becomes a human life,” he said of an unborn fetus. “And you have to protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Busby served as an officer in Baghdad, Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq, and later worked as a defense contractor training soldiers in Afghanistan. He served as the vice chief of staff to Kelly when the current White House chief of staff was a three-star lieutenant general commanding the Marine Forces Reserve.

Busby said he had not spoken to Kelly about his plans, but he foresees talking with him if his last-minute campaign gains traction.

“It may make an interesting phone call,” he said.