Alabama Republicans are selecting a candidate tonight to challenge Democrat Doug Jones in the race for Jeff Sessions’ vacated Senate seat. See updated, live election results and updates below.
Roy Moore, the controversial former Chief Justice of Alabama who once defied an order to remove a Ten Commandments monument, was the favorite going into the September 26 runoff election after breaking out a lead in the polls. He’s facing U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, who was named to the seat by the scandal-plagued former governor.
The race is being closely watched for several reasons. Most notably, President Donald Trump endorsed and stumped for Strange (as did VP Mike Pence), but even Trump conceded before the polls closed that he didn’t think Strange would win, dialing down expectations. His former White House strategist, Steve Bannon, supported Moore.
You can see live, updated election results here from Decision Desk HQ:
Although some say a Strange loss would be a sign that Trump’s ability to move the GOP base is waning, the race has this odd overlay: Moore, with his bombastic rhetoric and anti-establishment themes (and establishment opponents like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who endorsed Strange) is a lot more like Trump in style than is Strange himself. Thus, the president is supporting the guy who seems least like him. Strange’s weakening support also has a lot to do with localized issues, including tensions between him and some establishment Republicans in Alabama, and the way in which he was named to the seat.
Strange and Moore ended up in a runoff because they split the vote in the primary with Republican Mo Brooks, with Moore in first. One of the wildcards: Where the votes for Brooks would go; he endorsed Moore. Turnout is also a factor, with low turnout perceived to help Moore. Due to his history of controversial comments, some think Moore would provide a lot of fodder for Democrats in the general election, although some recent polls show him defeating and doing better against Democrat Doug Jones than Strange does.
UPDATE, 6:38 p.m.
Politico is reporting that, the night before the election, Trump said that he thinks Moore will win. “Trump told conservative activists who visited the White House for dinner on Monday night that he’d underestimated the political power of Roy Moore, the firebrand populist and former judge,” according to Politico.
UPDATE, 6:25 p.m.
What did the polls say?
The polls right before election day showed Moore with a large lead over Strange. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows Moore with a 10.4 percentage point lead over Strange, as of September 25. Moore has led in polling since August, but the margin has jumped in his favor in recent weeks. (You can see the specific polls later in this article.)
Although Trump has tossed support to Strange, polling has shown that those who approve of Trump make up the largest portion of Moore’s supporters. The same is true of Strange, though. After all, it’s a GOP primary. The Optimus poll found that most people know that Trump endorsed Strange.
“Trump’s endorsement of Strange never made a lot of sense from either a messaging or policy standpoint. Trump ran as an outsider,” FiveThirtyEight noted. “Strange is an incumbent U.S. senator backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the pro-McConnell Senate Leadership Fund. He’s the ‘establishment’ candidate. Strange’s opponent Moore, on the other hand, is a lot more like Trump. Both Moore and Trump are populist politicians who have made a political career by running against the establishment.”
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Here’s a round up of the latest polls in the primary:
Trafalgar Group (9/23-24)
Fox 10/Strategy Research (9/20)
Doug Kaplan, the managing partner of Gravis Marketing, which conducted one of the recent polls, stressed, “The dynamics can change if the undecideds break towards Strange. Then, there is the factor of how many show up. It’s illegal for Democrats to vote if they voted in the Democratic primary last month, so Strange has to get new Democratic voters, who did not vote in the primary to show up for him.”
CNN reports that a Moore win could be a canary in the mine for other races, most notably primary fights in Nevada and Arizona.
Kaplan added, “Another factor working for Moore is his lead with both voters with a favorable opinion and unfavorable opinion of Trump.”
Moore was the top vote getter on the Republican side in the Alabama Senate Special Election during an earlier primary but not by a big enough margin to avoid a runoff.
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The seat was once occupied by Sessions, who left to become Trump’s Attorney General.
According to USA Today, “Strange and the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) spent a combined $10 million on the campaign through Sept. 6, and even more in the weeks after. Moore’s campaign spent just $1.1 million through early September.”
Moore was removed as Alabama’s chief justice in 2003 “for refusing to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments,” reports FiveThirtyEight. The Moore saga doesn’t end there, though. After being removed as chief justice, he won reelection. However, he was then “suspended for declining to enforce the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriages. After losing an appeal, he resigned in April,” reports Politico.
Moore, a former prosecutor, judge, and military police officer in Vietnam, has a history of making controversial remarks. According to Politico, he told The Guardian that Vladimir Putin is “maybe … more akin to me than I know” because Putin opposes gay marriage, and, of transgender troops, he said, “If we’re going to file for hormone treatments and medical surgeries, that’s not making your military stronger. You’ve got to have a disciplined military.”
On the Democratic side, the race was always a bit of a Hail Mary; according to Five Thirty Eight, “No Democrat has won a Senate race in Alabama since 1992, and Trump won the state by 28 percentage points last November.”
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Adding another twist, turnout is expected to be low. According to The New York Times, a low turnout would be good for Moore, many experts believe, because “his defiance has only endeared him to his supporters, who are highly likely to show up to vote in any contest where he appears on the ballot.” Moore’s support with Evangelicals also would help him in a low turnout race because they tend to turn out in greater numbers.
There are also the localized concerns. Some observers say that Strange is struggling to hold onto the seat in part because he’s had tense relationships with some in the Republican establishment in Alabama as well as dealing with continued fallout over the fact he was appointed to the seat by former Gov. Robert Bentley, who was being investigated by the Alabama Attorney General’s office at the time Strange was interviewed for the Senate post. Strange was the state’s Attorney General at the time of his appointment to the Sessions’ Senate seat.
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