Moore Wins Senate GOP Runoff in Alabama

Trump backing fails to translate into win for Strange

Judge Roy Moore won the Tuesday runoff. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Judge Roy Moore won the Tuesday runoff. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 26, 2017 at 9:32pm

Roy Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has won the Republican runoff in the Alabama Senate race and will face Democrat Doug Jones in a Dec. 12 general election.

With 92 percent of precincts reporting, Moore led incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, 55 percent to 45 percent, The New York Times reported. Strange was appointed to the seat in February after former Sen. Jeff Sessions became the U.S. attorney general.

“Congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican Primary win in Alabama,” President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday night. “Luther Strange started way back & ran a good race. Roy, WIN in Dec!”

(The president first tweeted “WIN in Nov!” but corrected the month in a later tweet.)

Despite his popularity in the Yellowhammer State, Trump’s endorsement of Strange was not enough to propel him to victory.

“People can keep that distinction in their head: ‘I love President Trump and I’m going to be for him no matter what, but this guy, Sen. Strange, got there in a way I don’t approve of so I’m not with the president on that,’” Alabama GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne, who did not endorse a candidate in the runoff, said Tuesday. “I think Sen. Strange would have been far better off doing his local and statewide knitting on issues.”

Strange was bogged down by questions surrounding his appointment to the seat by then-Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. At the time, Strange, as the state’s attorney general, may have been investigating Bentley while also pursuing the Senate appointment. Strange was also tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose allies spent millions of dollars on the race.

National Republican figures and organizations also jumped into the race, which some conservative activists billed as the political establishment versus the party’s conservative base.

Moore had the backing of a number of conservative leaders as well as former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. They argued that even though Trump endorsed Strange, Moore was the candidate who was willing to buck party leadership to advance the president’s agenda.

Groups tied to GOP leadership, such as the Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-aligned super PAC, have spent millions of dollars on the race.

The group’s president, Steven Law, acknowledged Tuesday that Moore won the runoff before it was officially called, and signaled the fund would back Moore in the general election.

“While we were honored to have fought hard for Big Luther, Judge Roy Moore won this nomination fair and square and he has our support, as it is vital that we keep this seat in Republican hands,” Law said.

Even though groups like the Senate Leadership Fund outspent Moore on the airwaves, he turned the outsize spending into a campaign message that Strange was preferred by the party elites.

“Will we send them a message, very clear, Alabama can’t be bought?” Moore asked the crowd at his election eve rally. The crowd responded with an enthusiastic “Yes.”

Byrne noted that the ads and campaigning overwhelmed voters in Alabama. He estimated he received 20 mailers while he was home last week, and campaign ads dominated TV and radio airwaves.

“I was watching the Alabama football game Saturday and every time the game would go to commercials, I would get up and go to the kitchen or somewhere because I just couldn’t stand watching it anymore,” Byrne said. “… You can’t escape it. So everybody in Alabama’s probably glad when today comes and goes, no matter the outcome.”

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, who endorsed Moore, said Tuesday that a Moore victory means outside money cannot sway elections, and that the American electorate’s frustration with D.C. is “at an all-time high.”

“They’re tired of business-as-usual, of not getting things done so they’re willing to take on a nontraditional candidate to hopefully get that done,” the North Carolina Republican said. “We saw that on Nov. 8. I think we’ll continue to see that until things change here on Capitol Hill.”

Moore also likely benefited from high statewide name recognition and a natural network due to his time as chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

He had the backing of Christian conservatives in the state, thanks in part to his high-profile fights while on the court. Moore was first removed from the bench for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a state building. He was removed last year after ordering judges not to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

While the Senate Leadership Fund has signaled it would support Moore, it is not clear if they will spend at the same rate as the GOP primary. The group spent roughly $5 million on the runoff on Strange’s behalf.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which also backed Strange, hinted it would also support Moore in the general election. NRSC Chairman Cory Gardner of Colorado said in a statement that “we support him in keeping this seat in Republican hands.”

McConnell, who Moore said should be replaced as the Senate GOP leader, congratulated the former judge and also encouraged Republicans to support him.

“Senate Republicans will be as committed to keeping Alabama’s Senate seat in Republican hands with Roy Moore as we were with Luther Strange,” McConnell said. “I urge all of our friends who were active in the primary to redouble their efforts in the general election.”

But how much Republicans spend could also depend on the Democrats.

“I think if there is a real Democratic push, I think there will be a big Republican pushback,” Byrne said.

Jones, Moore’s Democratic opponent, is a former U.S. attorney and well-known for prosecuting members of the Ku Klux Klan involved in the 1963 bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham that killed four young girls.

Democrats acknowledge they face an uphill climb in the heavily Republican state. Trump won Alabama by nearly 30 points in November. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican.

Jones will have some help from former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who heads to the state next month to campaign for him.

In a statement, Jones noted that Republicans were already reaching out in support of his campaign. He did not mention Moore by name but appeared to reference his provocative remarks.

“I will never embarrass the people of Alabama,” Jones said. “I am running so the people of Alabama can be proud of their next senator.”

Moore’s controversial past statements about homosexuality and a lack of morality in the country could fuel Democratic attacks in the general election.

American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC, released a 21-page research report Tuesday night following Moore’s victory entitled “Roy Moore: Unfit for Office.”

The report highlights Moore’s previous statements, including an opinion in which he wrote that homosexuality was “abominable, detestable, unmentionable, and too disgusting and well-known to require other definition or further details or description.”

National Democrats are closely monitoring the race, weighing whether it will be worth spending resources on Jones. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been in touch with Jones’ campaign and has been providing advice on campaign best practices.

As the race continues, Strange will return to the Senate, where he will serve until the December election.

“Tomorrow, I will go back to work with President Trump and do all I can to advance his agenda over the next few weeks,” the defeated senator said in a concession statement.