Despite unified Republican control of Washington, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been having a bad year. The Senate primary in Alabama on Tuesday may make it even worse.
Alabama voters head to the polls Tuesday to select candidates who will compete in December for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat. Until recently, the Republican who has temporarily filled the seat since January and who has earned endorsements from both President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell would have been the favorite. But in a year of political anomalies, this race may once again defy expectations.
Sen. Luther Strange (R), who was chosen to temporarily fill the seat by Alabama’s disgraced former governor, has earned the Republican Party’s official support. McConnell’s super PAC has spent at least $8 million on his candidacy, and the majority leader has threatened to cut Republican consultants off from the party funding if they support Strange’s primary challengers.
Despite his feud with McConnell over the Senate’s failures this year, Trump has also come out to endorse Strange.
Luther Strange of the Great State of Alabama has my endorsement. He is strong on Border & Wall, the military, tax cuts & law enforcement.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
Yet Strange is lagging in the polls to far-right candidate and former state Supreme Court Chief Roy Moore, who lost his position on the bench when he refused to obey a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from an Alabama judicial building.
Moore’s success in the polls is a testament to just how angry Alabamians are with establishment Republicans like McConnell. Alabama voters love President Trump — they supported him with over 62 percent of the vote in November — and all three leading Republicans have tried to tie themselves closely to the otherwise unpopular president. But in the end, they may reject his chosen candidate because they are frustrated with the Republican Party and the Senate for their inability to repeal Obamacare.
Moore is capitalizing on that anger. According to Politico, he recently sent a fundraising email with the subject line: “You & Me vs Mitch McConnell.”
“If Mitch McConnell is accusing me of being a ‘conservative rebel’ who won’t march in lockstep behind his Big Government, big-spending agenda, then I plead guilty as charged!” Moore wrote. “I don’t have — nor want — the backing of Mitch McConnell and his cronies in Washington,” he added.
And at a recent campaign event, Moore criticized McConnell’s “false advertising” and “attacks on candidates, myself included,” referring to ads by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC.
It’s a sentiment that is shared widely among Alabama conservatives. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who is also challenging Strange for the Senate seat, told reporters last month that he would not vote for McConnell as majority leader if he were elected to the Senate. Two days later, he called for the majority leader to step down.
"If I were Mitch McConnell, I would resign," Rep Mo Brooks (R-AL) tells me about last night's Obamacare repeal and replace flop in Senate
— Peter Doocy (@pdoocy) July 28, 2017
Alabama voters are also critical of McConnell’s efforts to buy the race for Strange. Republican Bruce Wade, who leads a pro-gun group, told CNN that McConnell is wasting money.
“Alabama voters are a lot smarter than they give us credit for,” he said. “And we don’t appreciate them telling us how to vote.”
Recent polls show Moore holding a lead with 35 percent support to Strange’s 23 percent and Brooks’ 20 percent. Moore would need at least 50 percent of the vote in the Republican primary to avoid a run-off in September.
Democrats, meanwhile, see a potential Moore win as an opportunity for their favored candidate, Doug Jones, to compete in the deep-red state.