POLITICO Pro Q&A: AL-05 Republican Clayton Hinchman

By Daniel Strauss
08/09/2017 05:02 AM EDT

Rep. Mo Brooks did not have to give up his House seat to run in Alabama’s special Senate election. But another Republican, businessman Clayton Hinchman, decided that he would run for Brooks’ seat anyway.

Hinchman, a retired Army Ranger who lost his leg in Iraq and now works for a defense firm based out of Huntsville, said he will continue running whether or not Brooks advances in the race for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat. (Brooks, in a separate interview, said he would be on the ballot “in 2018 or 2020 depending on the outcome of the special election.” He also said he isn’t worried about Hinchman.)

In an interview, Hinchman framed himself as a conservative Republican who would take a thoughtful approach to legislating — as opposed, Hinchman said, to the outspoken Brooks.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Why primary Rep. Brooks? Is this about a larger effort to punish him for challenging Sen. Luther Strange?

No. Not at all. Our candidacy, we came out so early. We were waiting to see how Congressman Brooks would react to the Senate race. I was going to run either way. If he had not run in the Senate, I probably would have just made my announcement a little bit later, maybe in the fall timeframe, but as soon as he made his announcement that he’s going to be running for Senate, we immediately announced, with no backing from anybody.

We haven’t gone at Congressman Brooks or attacked him in any way. We’re not trying to undermine the Senate race or support any other candidate. This is about us and our campaign, getting our name on the national scale and then fundraising and fundraising.

You’ve taken advice from Ward Baker, the former NRSC executive director who helped Mitch McConnell build and maintain his Senate majorities. That seems like a signal that this campaign is part of something bigger than your typical local primary.

Ward reached out to us after we announced. I didn’t know Ward at all. We announced and then about five weeks later he reached out to us, one of my volunteers actually. But he’s not actively supporting our campaign. It was him being a Marine veteran talking to me … I wouldn’t say it was advice, it was feedback of what to expect switching from being a business professional.

So why challenge Brooks? What’s been your problem with his tenure as a congressman?

I’m a businessman. I sold my first business last year and am actively trying to grow another small business and I think that some of the biggest issues we have in north Alabama are not being represented on the business side. … You have Congressman Brooks actively working against the Defense Appropriations Act, has actively worked to shut down the government and a lot of people here in our district felt that he was trying to prove a political point on the backs of the people. It didn’t do anything to help the deficit because he didn’t attack mandatory spending or the GDP. He was focused on making a political point and a lot of people were hurt by that.

We’re hurting our national defense, we’re shutting down the federal government. We’re hurting the people because we don’t know where the paychecks come from. Those things really hurt my community and my family and my friends. So if somebody’s going to stand up and complain about it I’d rather just put myself out there and see if we can make a change.

At this point do you expect Brooks to fail to make it to the runoff or not?

I have to be honest with you, I have no idea. I honestly — I don’t know. It depends on how the people of Alabama view his candidacy. There’s a lot to do with Luther and I don’t know with Sen. Strange how the people are going to view him with Gov. [Robert] Bentley and all of the negative things that Congressman Brooks has said about President [Donald] Trump, how the people are going to react. I wouldn’t even begin to speculate.

Is it better for your candidacy if Brooks makes the runoff or not?

I don’t know. If he potentially gets more airtime it hurts us and potentially helps us if he spends all his money I guess.

What kind of House member would you be? Would you align yourself with a group of House Republicans like the TuesdayGroup or, like Brooks, the House Freedom Caucus?

Nobody has approached us to join any caucus yet so I think we would have to leave all of our options open, but the type of congressman I plan to be is, No. 1, to listen to the voters, to listen to the constituents. The biggest key aspect that I think differentiates our campaign is I actually listen to the people. I know I’m not an expert in any one thing. We have a lot of great leaders in defense, in business, technology and health care in my community. So I plan to keep them on my quick dial so I can say, “How does this actually affect you in the field?”

The most recent FEC filing said you’d raised $10,000 so far. How do you plan to compete with Brooks who right now has more than $700,000 in his campaign account?

We actually started raising money for one week when we had to file that first FEC filing. It makes us look pretty incompetent. Some people came out of the woodwork and maxed us out in the very beginning and we went ahead and just filed a report just to make sure we were following all the rules. We’re doing a lot better now. We’re actively raising funds and people are donating. We have a fundraiser coming up that we’re going to have this quarter. Hopefully, we’ll be able to surprise some folks at our next filing.

Can you give me a ballpark number of how much you’re hoping to raise soon? What’s the next FEC report going to say when I look at it?

We’re trying to get to at least $300,000 by Christmastime. That’s our goal.

Do you expect to be outspent by Brooks throughout a reelection fight if that happens?

Oh yeah definitely. I think we can expect to be outspent. I can expect that much.

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