I don’t believe we have written about the race to fill the Senate seat in Alabama vacated by Jeff Sessions. The Republican primary initially featured three main candidates: Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill the seat after Sessions became Attorney General; Rep. Mo Brooks, a Tea Party style conservative and member of the House Freedom Caucus; and Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Moore famously refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building despite orders to do so by a federal court. Moore also directed probate judges to continue to enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriage despite the fact that it had been overturned.
Moore and Strange emerged from the first round of the election, held on August 15. Moore captured 39 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for Strange. Brooks ran a distance third with just under 20 percent.
The run-off will occur on September 26, with the winner heavily favored to defeat Democrat Doug Jones in the general election. Strange is backed by the Republican establishment in Alabama as well as Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund PAC. More importantly, it seems to me, President Trump has endorsed him.
Nonetheless, a new poll of likely voters by Decision Desk HQ finds Moore comfortably ahead. He’s at 50.3 percent. Strange is at 32.2 percent, about the same percentage he attained in the multi-candidate first round. The margin of error is said to be +/-4.4 percent.
Despite having received President Trump’s approval, Strange suffers from weak approval numbers. 40 percent of those likely to vote in the Republican primary view him favorably; 46 percent view him unfavorably.
These numbers do not reflect disapproval of Trump. As Alexandra DeSanctis at NRO points out, 68.6 percent of the voters surveyed said they strongly approve of the president, and another 14.8 percent said they somewhat approve of him. Just 14 percent of likely voters in the poll either somewhat or strongly disapprove of Trump.
Strange’s problem is that Trump’s endorsement isn’t swaying enough Trump supporters. Moore leads Strange by over 25 percentage points among respondents who strongly approve of the president.
Ironically, Moore’s showing is less impressive among those who only somewhat approve of Trump. His lead with this cohort is 10 percentage points.
I’m not a student of Alabama politics, so I hesitate to explain why Moore is doing so well among Trump’s most ardent supporters in the face of Trump’s endorsement of Strange. However, it may be worth noting that Trump and Moore have one very important thing in common — defiance of liberal norms. In Moore’s case, that includes defiance of the law.
Trump’s inability (thus far, anyway) to swing the GOP primary Strange’s way tends to undercut his ridiculous suggestion that Jeff Sessions endorsed him early for president because of the big crowds Trump was drawing in Alabama. The implication is that Sessions realized that what a big player Trump had become in Alabama and responded accordingly.
It looks like homegrown figures who have earned the confidence of Alabama voters can prosper without Trump’s support. Jeff Sessions certainly could have.