Voters in Alabama head to the polls Tuesday to choose the Republican nominee for the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a state as deeply conservative as Alabama — Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state about five to three — that means they’re almost certainly choosing the state’s next senator too.
The frontrunner is former Judge Roy Moore, a populist who believes in the supremacy of God’s law over man, has addressed white supremacy groups, doesn’t believe Muslims can serve in Congress, and was twice reprimanded for defying federal court orders. Moore has run a campaign heavy on God and guns; at a campaign event Monday night, the candidate pulled out his pistol onstage and waved it in the air — to wild applause from the crowd. Moore was joined at the rally by Phil Robertson, the star of the Duck Dynasty franchise; Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and the executive chair of Breitbart; and Nigel Farage, the British politician who helped orchestrate Brexit.
His only opponent on Tuesday is incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, appointed to temporarily fill Sessions’s seat by a now-disgraced governor engulfed in a fog of scandal. Strange has clung to President Donald Trump’s endorsement and benefited from tens of millions of dollars in spending from allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — two advantages that may not be enough to win. Vice President Mike Pence campaigned with Strange on Monday night, and Trump did so last week.
Polls will close at 8 pm Eastern Tuesday (7 pm local time). Follow here for live results:
The race will have national political consequences. Moore has vowed to stand against the Republican establishment should he win, giving McConnell a new antagonist in a caucus he has already struggled to unify. A Moore victory would also give a national platform to a judge whose political beliefs were once relegated to the far-right fringe of conservatism in Alabama.
“If you’re McConnell, you’re just peeing your pants over the prospect of a Moore win,” said Jim Manley, who served as a top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “It’d be like adding a mini thermonuclear weapon in the Republican caucus — with very dangerous consequences for those trying to reach compromise.”
Luther Strange: a Senate incumbent weighed down by ties to “the establishment”
Conservative voters in this deep-red state handed Trump a big victory in the 2016 presidential primary, and then did so again in the general election. More than 55 percent of the state’s voters still approve of Trump’s job performance, nearly 20 points above the national average.
But Trump’s “complete and total endorsement” of Strange may not be enough to put the man known as “Big Luther” — he’s 6-foot-9 — over the top. Polling suggests Strange trails Moore by as many as 8 to 10 points. That’s despite the backing of Trump, a multimillion-dollar ad campaign from McConnell, and the support of the Alabama business community.
Former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Strange to replace Jeff Sessions when Sessions became Trump’s attorney general. That decision has loomed large over the GOP primary. Strange served as state attorney general under Bentley, who resigned amid an impeachment investigation into whether he used state resources for an extramarital affair. Two Republican members of the Alabama statehouse have since publicly alleged that Strange tried to stop Bentley’s impeachment because he had his eye on the governor’s mansion, though the charge hasn’t been proven.
“While attorney general, Strange held over the head of the governor a criminal investigation while seeking a personal gain, a United States Senate seat, from the governor,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who came in third and lost in a first round of voting held this August. (Brooks eventually endorsed Moore for today’s runoff.) “[Strange’s] deception was only uncovered when the next attorney general came in.”
Roy Moore: the fire-and-brimstone judge likely to be Alabama’s next senator
Like Trump, Moore has a credible claim to being an outsider where his opponents do not. Strange was a Washington lobbyist for an oil company before becoming attorney general; Brooks had been in the House since 2011.
“I’m not a politician. I don’t like politics,” Moore told supporters at a rally in August. “It’s what God has done through me.”
In an interview in August, Moore promised to restore Christianity to the Capitol, said he wanted to fight the rise of Islamic “Sharia law” in the US, and eagerly showed off his annotations on Joseph Story’s 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution of the US.
“That guy Roy Moore is way, way out there. He won’t even defend the rule of law,” said James Follett, 61, outside a Strange event at a Birmingham diner. “He wants to follow his judgment — not the judgment of the Supreme Court.”
God is frequently on Moore’s lips. “God has taken us, step by step, to the advertising we’ve gotten in this campaign,” the candidate said at one rally.
Moore — whom I profiled at length here — has also said that the military had become “too weak” and had to be rebuilt.
“Troops need to be trained like they used to be trained: to fight wars,” he told those assembled. “Not for political experiments like transgenderism and political correctness and feel-good stuff that’s going on in the military today.”