By Hastings Wyman –
In July, a composite of recent polls of Alabama’s Republican voters showed that former state Chief Justice Roy Moore led in the US Senate primary with 30%, with incumbent-by-appointment Luther Strange a close second at 28%. Trailing in third place was US Rep. Mo Brooks with 18%.
The most recent poll, taken August 8 and 9 by the firm Cygnal (R), located in Montgomery, showed Moore was stalled at 31% and Brooks with the same 18% as before. Strange, however, though still second, dropped five points from the July composite to 23%. The Cygnal poll was in the field only one day after President Trump endorsed Strange, so the endorsement’s impact was only minimally measured. Of interest, both Moore and Strange had positive approval ratings, but Brooks was negative. In addition to Moore, Strange and Brooks, six other candidates are running in the primary. None has exceeded 8% in the polls.
In a hypothetical runoff, contrary to conventional wisdom, Cygnal showed Moore leading Strange, 45% to 35%.
Strange’s decline in the polls, says Glenn Browder, Emeritus Professor at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, “reflects what’s been happening; Strange has become everybody’s piñata, for Moore and Brooks.”
Marty Connors, former state GOP chair and now a consultant, says how the polls show the race depends on what kind of turn-out model the pollsters use. He sees Moore doing well “if the turnout is around 15%,” but adds, “higher the turnout, Strange does better.”
Moore, a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam and later graduated from law school, has a natural constituency in the thousands of evangelical Christians who have followed him through thick and thin when he was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, first for erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments at the Supreme Court building, and second for ordering county clerks not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in violation of a US Supreme Court ruling. In addition, he has been endorsed by a plethora of conservative groups, including the American Family Association, the Alabama Constitution Party, “Duck Dynasty” ’s Phil Robertson, and Operation Rescue.
As for Trump’s endorsement of Strange, Connors says “Trump’s job approval is out the roof here. Everybody’s trying to out-Trump each other.” And he opines that “Strange has captured the ‘I’m the Trump guy’ vote. He’s also doing well with supporters of Sessions.” Browder says that the Trump endorsement will be helpful to Strange, “but I don’t see it as a game-changer.” Indeed, the impact may depend on whether Strange’s campaign gets the word out, through TV, radio and other outlets.
After Sessions resigned his Senate seat to become US attorney general, then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R) appointed Strange, who was the Alabama attorney general, to the seat. Response to Strange’s appointment was largely positive at the time, and the special senate election was scheduled for next year. However, after Bentley’s impeachment, amidst steamy publicity about the governor’s relationship with a married woman on his staff, much of the public focus shifted to the impression that Bentley appointed Strange to disrupt his investigation into Bentley’s problems. Strange has rebutted the charge by noting that at the time he opened the Bentley investigation, Sessions had not been appointed US attorney general.
When Kay Ivey (R), then lieutenant governor, assumed the governorship, she moved the election to this year, a move considered helpful to Strange’s challengers.
Brooks, despite his lack of support for Trump in the past, this year posited himself as the Trump candidate. But television attacks on Brooks, financed mainly by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund, have focused on Brooks’ lack of support for Trump during the 2016 contest for the nomination. Brooks, a supporter of US Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), had referred to Trump as a “serial adulterer.”
Nevertheless, Brooks was quick with a response to President Trump’s endorsement of Strange. Brooks immediately charged that McConnell had misled the President. And Brooks’ defense fit nicely with Moore’s attacks on Strange, which centered on the large amounts of money that McConnell and other outsiders were funneling into Strange’s campaign.
On the money front, Strange is far and away in front, with a total of about
$7 million spent on his behalf. Brooks raised $1.3 million. And Moore raised $306,000, though he did bring in enough to finance an attack ad that referred to McConnell’s “D.C. slime machine” for its attacks on Moore. In addition to McConnell’s fund and money from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the National Rifle Association spent $43,117 on radio ads backing Strange.
Browder suggests the outcome on Tuesday depends on three dynamics:
First, whether the Strange campaign uses its large financial advantage effectively in the closing days of the campaign;
Second, whether Brooks, who has tied himself strongly to Trump despite the President’s endorsement of Strange, will experience a “silent surge,” much as Trump did in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign; and
Third, whether the political muscle – in the form of office-holders and various party moguls – do an effective job of turning out the vote for Strange.
There are seven candidates in the Democratic Primary, but the GOP is heavily favored to hold the seat.
Runoffs, if needed, will be held on September 26. The General Election will be on December 12.