Who Will Win the Alabama Senate Race Republican Primary? Candidates Fight to Appear Most Pro-Trump

Luther Strange
Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) looks on during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 9. Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

President Donald Trump may have hit a new low approval rating over the weekend, but there will be little evidence of that Tuesday when the people of Alabama go to the polls for the Republican primary ahead of a special election to fill Jeff Sessions’s vacated Senate seat. Rather than distancing himself from the nationally unpopular president, in Alabama, each of the Republican candidates are fighting among themselves to portray themselves as the most pro-Trump.

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It is perhaps no surprise that such a scenario should unfold in a state that Trump carried by more than 20 points in the Republican primary and by almost 30 points in November’s general election. And, even after six months in office during which his support has faded across the country, his approval rating in Alabama remains a healthy 55 percent.

Tuesday’s battle is set to be a case of three leading candidates fighting for two spots in a runoff. Adding further intrigue, the two front-runners include a Trump-like anti-establishment candidate who has claimed that God was responsible for putting Trump in the White House, and another who received the surprise endorsement of the president last week.

Roy Moore, who has mirrored Trump’s call to “drain the swamp,” goes into Tuesday’s election leading in the polls and hopes to capitalize on the same antipathy toward Washington that propelled Trump into the White House.

“They’re that out of touch in Washington that they don’t understand that Alabama people aren’t that out of touch,” Moore said last week.

Moore’s message has an obvious target thanks to the fact that his chief rival, Luther Strange, has received the vocal and financial backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Senate Leadership Fund. But, given Trump’s outsider stance and his current rift with McConnell over last month’s failed vote to repeal and replace Obamacare, the president’s leap into the race to endorse Strange came as a major shock.

“Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama,” Trump tweeted last week before sending out a similar message to his followers Monday. “He has my complete and total endorsement!”

Since being appointed to fill Sessions’ Senate seat in February, no senator has voted more in line with Trump than Strange. Previously, the state’s attorney general, who was overseeing an investigation into Robert Bentley when he was appointed by the then-governor, Strange says his record elevates him above his rivals.

“What distinguishes me from my opponents is I actually have a record of conservative, common-sense accomplishments as opposed to just the rhetoric about, ‘I’m a conservative guy, I love President Trump,’” Strange told reporters last week, according to The New York Times.

While his six months in the Senate have given Strange exposure, Moore can similarly count on a national reputation. As chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court in 2003, Moore was removed from his post for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the state Capitol. Then, after being re-elected to the court, he was suspended for refusing to enforce a Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

Moore and Strange are expected to head into a runoff, but a third candidate could yet throw a spanner in the works for the establishment candidate. Mo Brooks, who has represented Alabama’s 5th Congressional District since 2011, may have missed out on Trump’s endorsement due to his criticisms of the president during the 2016 campaign and his support of Senator Ted Cruz in the Republican primary. However, despite seeing Trump’s formal support go elsewhere, he still hopes to attract many of the same people who voted for Trump in droves last November.

“McConnell and Strange are weak, but together we can be strong,” Brooks said, according to NPR. “Mr. President, isn't it time we tell McConnell and Strange, ‘You’re fired?’”