By Hastings Wyman –
Contradicting the conventional wisdom that US Senator-by-appointment Luther Strange would defeat the primary winner Roy Moore in the runoff, opinion polls consistently show Moore the likely victor.
“In the most recent poll I’ve seen, from Jerry Ingram [Southeast Research],
Moore has a sizable lead,” says Glenn Browder, Emeritus Professor at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. A former congressman, Browder adds, “I’d rather be in Moore’s shoes.” The poll, taken by Montgomery-based Southeast Research of 401 likely runoff voters, showed Moore with 52%, Strange with 36% and 12% with no choice. Conservative voters favored Moore 58% to 32%, while moderates favored Strange 49% to 39%. The poll also showed President Trump with a 63% favorable rating, to Moore’s 38% and Strange’s 18%.
“Justice Moore is up double-digits,” says Dr. Gerald Johnson, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Auburn University, an expert on political statistics. “I don’t see anything intervening to change that.”
In addition, the Real Clear Politics average of four polls, not including the Southeast Research survey, showed Moore with 46% and Strange with 35%. A poll in late August by Opinion Savvy showed Moore up by 18 points. Another poll, however, did show Strange behind by only two points.
“When it’s all said and done, polls are fairly accurate,” says Marty Connors, a former GOP state chairman.
Moore, who has positioned himself firmly on the socially conservative hard right, was twice removed from the state Supreme Court for disobeying federal court orders. The first time Moore erected a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Court, which he refused to move. After Moore’s removal, he ran for the state high court again and won. Then he was removed a second time after ordering county clerks to refuse to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
So why has Moore confounded the experts and maintained, perhaps lengthened, his lead in the runoff?
“This is not a race not about Luther Strange and Roy Moore,” says Connors. “This is a referendum on the Republican leadership…. Had they passed an Obamacare reform in any form or fashion, or if they pass tax reform,” voters probably wouldn’t feel so rebellious. “Looked at in this context, Roy Moore’s lead makes sense. Ultimately, the guy sitting at a bar drinking a beer is very disappointed in Congress, and Luther Strange happens to be a member of Congress.
“Judge Moore just has the lead with the Alabama psyche that is anti-Washington and anti-politicians,” says Browder. “Moore is against the Washington establishment. It’s a pretty powerful pitch.” Moore has neutralized Strange’s financial advantage by attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “the powerful U. S. Chamber of Commerce” and “my establishment opponent.”
Moore’s message is underscored by endorsements from an array of hard right Republicans, including House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (NC), Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, the Senate Conservatives Fund, actor Chuck Norris, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, Mark Levin, Ambassador Alan Keyes and evangelist Dr. James Dobson.
Strange has some high-powered support also, mostly from center-right figures in Washington, including McConnell, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Karl Rove’s Senate Leadership Fund, the US Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Business Council of Alabama. He was also endorsed by President Trump and by the National Rifle Association.
Strange’s support has brought him a huge lead in campaign funds. In the latest Federal Election Commission reports, Strange had raised $5,829,000 and had $934,000 on hand. Moore raised $926,000 and had $173,000 on hand. Since them, Strange has continued to benefit from major contributions, mainly from Republican groups in Washington.
While Moore’s election would help the GOP keep its slim majority in the Senate, his maverick style and socially conservative politics could well present problems for Majority Leader McConnell, who has helped funnel millions of dollars into Alabama on Strange’s behalf.
Dr. Johnson points out that in the primary, “Voter turnout was 17% of statewide of registered voters,” with less than 7% for Moore. He adds that turnout could be lower in the runoff, lamenting that only a small minority of voters will have chosen a United States senator.
If Moore wins on September 26, as now seems likely, what about the General Election on December 12?
Democratic nominee Doug Jones, who has a history in state Democratic politics, “has a remote possibility of winning in the General Election,” says GOPer Connors. “Not because of a rise in Democrats, but because of the civil war in the Republican Party.” He notes that if it looks like Jones has a shot, “A lot of outside money would come in for the Democrats.” Connors adds, however, “If Doug Jones were to win, we’ll replace him with a Republican when he comes up for election. But it would hurt the GOP in the interim, losing their Senate majority. The damage would be enormous.”