By Hastings Wyman –
Yesterday’s Republican US Senate primary in Alabama to choose a successor to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions produced no surprises. Both polling data and conventional wisdom held that former state Chief Justice Roy Moore would come in first and that incumbent-by-appointment Luther Strange would come in second, with a lagging third place for US Rep. Mo Brooks.
Moore led from the start and Strange was second throughout the night. With some two-thirds of precincts reporting, Moore had 116,069 votes (41%), Strange had 91,452 (32%) and Brooks had 54,832 (19%). Six other candidates finished in single digits. At 8pm, Moore told the Birmingham News, “… the question is how much we’ll win by.”
The runoff between Moore and Strange will be held on September 26 and the man in the catbird seat will be Brooks, whose votes – about one fifth of the total – will be crucial in determining the winner.
Moore, a West Point graduate and a conservative Christian, is popular with evangelical voters. They approve of his stands which have removed him from the state Supreme Court twice, once for erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments in the state Supreme Court building and secondly for ordering county clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He also has some pizzazz, in contrast to the somewhat staid Sen. Strange: Moore arrived to vote yesterday morning in Gallant, Alabama, astride his horse, “Sassy.”
Observers of the state’s politics have opined that Moore would lead in the primary, but lose in the runoff. The most recent poll, however, showed that in a hypothetical face-off, Moore would lead Strange by 45% to 35%.
Strange, known as “Big Luther” because of his 6-foot-9 frame, was the state’s attorney general when he was appointed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R). Strange’s appointment was widely praised at the time, but later became tarnished when Bentley resigned after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors. Then Strange’s political foes, apparently including newly-installed Gov. Kay Ivey (R) who may run for a full term as governor next year, moved the election from 2018 to this year, putting Strange at a disadvantage.
Strange’s biggest asset was the strong support from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The President not only tweeted his endorsement of Strange, but recorded a robo-call message that was used to turn out votes for Strange. Moreover, President Trump is expected to campaign in Alabama for Strange. And McConnell, through his own political action committee and that of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, funneled millions of dollars into the state on Strange’s behalf. By contrast, Moore has – as usual – been underfunded.
The Democrats also held a primary, which was won outright by former US Attorney Doug Jones, known mainly for prosecuting the men who bombed a black church in Birmingham, killing two young girls. Jones garnered 64% of the vote and will face either Moore or Strange on Dec. 12. The seat is considered a sure-thing for the GOP, although Jones might be able to mount a significant campaign if Moore is the Republican nominee.