Looking ahead to Tuesday’s election between Alabama Sen. Luther Strange and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. The winner will face Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, in the Dec. 12 general election.
Brian Lyman / Advertiser
Tuesday marks the end of one expensive and heated contest â€” and possibly the beginning of another.Â
Alabama voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide who will get the Republican Senate nomination â€” the incumbent, Sen. Luther Strange, or former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore.Â
The vote will end a contest pitting Mooreâ€™s solid base against Strangeâ€™s tireless efforts to transform himself into a proxy for President Trump, who remains popular among GOP voters in the state. The winner will face former U.S. attorney Doug Jones, the Democratic nominee, in a Dec. 12 general election.Â
While the policy differences between Strange and Moore are negligible, the campaign has turned into a proxy war for factions within the national Republican Party, both seeking Trumpâ€™s favor while crossing swords over the partyâ€™s congressional leadership, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Below are five questions whose answers will be key to the outcome.Â
1. Will voters see Donald Trump in Luther Strange?
Strangeâ€™s campaign has one overriding theme: HeÂ loves the presidentÂ â€” a whole lot â€” and hopes you understandÂ the depths of his commitment. The incumbent speaks of Trump in terms that are never less than reverent (and sometimes,Â biblical). He gives unqualified support forÂ a border wall with MexicoÂ and (like Moore) bills repealing the Affordable Care Act â€” many of which included Medicaid cuts withÂ potentially serious consequencesÂ for Medicaid recipients,Â Alabama hospitals and primary care providers.
The senator attacks Moore for slights real or perceived against TrumpÂ and suggested atÂ a debate ThursdayÂ that Moore resented Strange’s friendship with the president. The strategy helped Strange slide into the runoff ahead of Rep. Mo BrooksÂ on Aug. 15Â and helped him secure an appearance by Trump at a rally in Huntsville last week.Â
Moore, though, has also said he will support the presidentâ€™s agenda in the SenateÂ and that he’s not running against the president. ConsultantsÂ said FridayÂ that Strangeâ€™s relentless invocation of Trump has meant StrangeÂ has disappeared as a person. Trump himself seemedÂ to hedge on his support for StrangeÂ at Fridayâ€™s rally, suggesting Moore might win and that if he did, he would campaign for him.Â
2. Will voters see Robert Bentley in Luther Strange?
Strangeâ€™s appointment to the SenateÂ by former governor Robert BentleyÂ â€” when Strange was Alabama attorney general â€” continues to haunt the campaign. BentleyÂ pleaded guiltyÂ to two campaign finance violations and resigned from office in April after an investigation by a unit of the attorney generalâ€™s office. Strange interviewed for and accepted the appointment while the investigation was underway.Â
The incumbent has declined to say what role, if any, he had in the investigation. Moore tried to press him on the issue at Thursdayâ€™s debate. Strange did not answer, nor did he answer when asked by reporters following the debate.Â
Moore has said little about the appointment in his advertising, butÂ outside groups opposed to Strange have repeatedly brought it up.
3. Can Roy Mooreâ€™s base carry him to another victory?
Moore has run the same race heâ€™s run since 2000, counting on enthusiastic supporters and high name recognition to make up for deficits in fundraising and television exposure. HeÂ has done so against a virtual tsunami of money coming into the race:Â StrangeÂ and the McConnell-alignedÂ Senate Leadership Fund (SLF)Â spent a combined $10 million on the campaign through Sept. 6, and even more in the weeks after. Mooreâ€™s campaign spentÂ just $1.1 millionÂ through early September.
Strange and the SLF tried a variety of approaches to peel off Mooreâ€™s base â€” first trying to raise questions aboutÂ payments to MooreÂ from the Foundation for Moral Law, which he headed from 2003 to 2012, and then by raising questions about Mooreâ€™s preparedness, citing a July radio interview where MooreÂ did not appear to knowÂ what the Deferred Action for Childhood ArrivalsÂ program was.Â
In recent weeks, Strange has switched tactics, suggesting Moore would not be a reliable vote for Trump and questioning his commitment to such issues as the construction of a border wall. Moore says that he favors the wall but suggests other, more immediate measures need to occur.Â
4. Which will be more decisive â€” national politics or Alabama dynamics?
This race is an oddity: an off-year primary that has becomeÂ a battleground among GOP factions. Vice President Pence traveled to Birmingham on Monday to campaign for Strange, and both the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are trying to push the incumbent over the finish line. Moore, meanwhile, has won the support of members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka appeared at a rally for Moore last week.
As Strange has touted his support from Trump, Moore has attacked Strange for his support from McConnell and promised to work to oust him as leader should he get to the Senate. Strange has tried to distance himself from McConnell, and at the Huntsville rally last week Trump suggested the two senators barely know each other.
Moore’s loyal following from Alabama voters comesÂ from his high-profile fightsÂ over the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage, both preceding Trump’s election.Â In a race withÂ turnout projected between 12% and 15%, the performance of Mooreâ€™s traditional bastions could prove crucial.Â
5. Where does this leave Doug Jones?
The Democratic nominee will have his work cut out for him, mo matter who wins Tuesday. No Democrat has won an election to the U.S. Senate in Alabama since 1992, and the last statewide election the party won took place in 2008. If turnout in the Republican primary (423,000 voters) was low, turnout for the Democratic primary â€” won overwhelmingly by Jones â€” was still lower (165,000). The party has long been in a rebuilding mode.
Still, Democrats appear to be enthusiastic for their candidate â€” a former U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted two of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombers â€” and the national party is taking notice. Former vice president Joe Biden will appear at a rally for Jones in Birmingham next week.Â
The Republican nominee will enter the general election campaign as the heavy favorite, Â but both GOP candidates have flaws. Strange struggles to create energy among Republican voters, and Mooreâ€™s outspoken opposition to homosexuality has turned off the business wing of the party. MooreÂ eked out a winÂ against Democrat Bob Vance in the 2012 campaign for chief justice of the state Supreme Court â€” finishing well behind the Republican ticket that year â€” and Democrats will likely be studying that race closely as they move forward for Jones.Â