Luther Strange, the Alabama Republican running for Senate, has the backing of the Republican establishment and President Donald Trump, but his poll numbers are lagging behind his more conservative-leaning opponent, Roy Moore.
Strange, Alabama’s attorney general from 2011 to 2017, was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He has received nearly $US11 million in campaign funding — 300% more than Moore.
Trump has been outspoken in his support for Strange, endorsing him before the August primary race, in which neither Strange nor Moore managed to earn more than 50 per cent of the vote, necessitating Tuesday’s primary runoff.
“Alabama is sooo lucky to have a candidate like “Big” Luther Strange. Smart, tough on crime, borders & trade, loves Vets & Military. Tuesday!” Trump tweeted last week.
The president even flew down to Huntsville, Alabama, on Friday to hold a rally for Strange, during which he claimed that the senator “doesn’t kowtow to anybody” and would “drain the swamp.”
“Luther has proved that he’s not beholden to anyone,” he said.
Trump made a point of distancing Strange from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s deeply unpopular with many right-wing Republicans, but whose Super PAC has provided much of Strange’s campaign funding.
“They say he’s friendly with Mitch — he doesn’t even know Mitch McConnell,” Trump said.
But Trump’s seemingly enthusiastic endorsement has come as a surprise to some of his supporters. They see Moore, the ousted chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and a bombastic voice of right-wing conservatism, as a more Trumpian candidate. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and right-wing UK politician Nigel Farage, have broken with Trump, actively supporting Moore.
During a 20-minute speech at a boisterous rally in Fairhope, Alabama, on Monday, Bannon called the primary a “day of reckoning” and charged that establishment Republicans think the state’s voters are “a pack of morons.”
Many Republicans fear that a Moore win would encourage other conservative populists across the country to challenge GOP incumbents.
At the Huntsville rally, Trump said he’s “taking a big risk” in endorsing Strange “because if Luther doesn’t make it” the media is “going to go after me.”
Though he promised to campaign for Moore if he wins the primary, Trump warned that Moore “has a very good chance of not winning” in a general election against Democrat Doug Jones.
But Democrats have little hope of winning in a state that hasn’t elected a member of their party to the Senate since 1992.
At one point during his 90-minute speech, Trump seemed to back away from a whole-hearted endorsement, suggesting that he may have made a mistake in picking Strange over Moore.
“I shouldn’t be doing it — the last thing I want to do is be involved in a primary,” Trump said, adding, “I might have made a mistake. I’ll be honest, I might have made a mistake.”
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