By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, August 16, 2017, political strategists and writers across Alabama and stretching all the way to the corridors of power in Washington, DC are still struggling to fully comprehend what just happened in Alabama’s Special Republican Primary to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he was confirmed as US Attorney General.
Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (R) received the most votes from a crowded GOP field that included the sitting US Senator, a sitting US Congressman, one of the most powerful State Senators in Montgomery, the longtime head of the Alabama Christian Coalition, and a diverse collection of political newcomers.
US Senator Luther Strange managed to fend off US Representative Mo Brooks to earn second place and a spot in the runoff with Moore, but it was not easy and it certainly wasn’t cheap.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell enlisted the aid of Republican super strategist Karl Rove and just about every well-heeled party loyalist and special interest in the Republican stable to donate to the efforts by Washington to keep Luther Strange.
Despite this, a week out from the election Strange trailed Moore by seven points and led Mo Brooks by less than three points and some pollsters thought Brooks was on pace to jump Strange into second place.
Throughout this campaign, Luther has been dogged by questions about his ethics and perception that he somehow did some sort of a deal with former Governor Robert Bentley (R) to get the Senate appointment. Strange steadfastly denies doing anything illegal or unethical.
The situation appeared so grim for Strange at that point that President Trump intervened in the race and endorsed Strange in the Republican Primary. The President even recorded a robo-call for Strange.
Voters across Alabama answered their phone and heard the sitting US President say: “Hi, this is President Donald Trump and I love the people of Alabama and I hope that you go out and vote for Luther Strange for US Senate.”
Luther Strange said in a statement, “I am proud to be endorsed by President Trump because he knows I am the best candidate to pass his America First policies to make America great again. In the Senate, I will be an ally of the president. That’s why I am so grateful for his kind words and support of my campaign for Senate.”
The move worked. Pummeled by weeks of negative ads questioning Mo Brooks loyalty to Donald Trump Mo Brooks pulled in just about what he was polling at 19.7 percent of the vote. Voters realized that this was a three-way race so arly support for minor candidates left on election day. They and undecideds broke to Moore and Trump, if they voted at all. Judge Moore collected 38.87 percent of the votes cast. Senator Strange received 32.83 percent of votes cast.
As of Tuesday, the Mitch McConnell (Senate Majority Leader from Kentucky) controlled Karl Rove managed Senate Leadership Fund had alone reportedly spent $4,233,000 to help Strange and tear down his opponents. That translates into an incredible $39.46 per vote for Strange. The Moore team estimated that they had spent one sixteenth of the money that the Strange campaign had.
Despite the President’s efforts and Mitch McConnell’s wild spending Moore still got 25,543 more votes than Strange. A jubilant Judge Moore told supporters, “The attempt by the silk-stocking Washington elitists to control the vote of the people of Alabama has failed.”
Moore vowed, “To defeat the forces of Mitch McConnell and the Washington crowd who have spent millions of dollars to thwart the will of the people of Alabama.”
Moore will now face Strange in the runoff on September 26 and media reports indicate that Mitch McConnell will continue his single minded effort to protect his friend, Luther Strange, at all costs.
President Trump (who communicates most effectively on Twitter) appeared more conciliatory. He tweeted: “Congratulation to Roy Moore and Luther Strange for being the final two and heading into a September runoff in Alabama. Exciting race!”
Conservative talk radio host and best-selling author Mark Levin (who was an early Brooks endorser) responded to the Presidential interference in the Special Alabama primary election: “Congratulations to President Trump, who foolishly helped McConnell-Rove-Roe defeat the best candidate in the field in Alabama, Mo Brooks. We conservatives will not forget. Now, we need to back Roy Moore against RINO lapdog, Luther Strange.”
The Alabama Republican Assembly, which considers itself to be the conscience of the Republican Party objected to so much Republican Party resources being squandered in a Republican Primary. The group released a statement: “Okay Republicans: There are 10 states where Democratic Senators face re-election in states that went Republican in the Presidential race last year. Why do you support an effort that is going to spend $8 million in an Alabama GOP Primary that could be used in campaigns for Indiana, Wisconsin, WV, Missouri, Florida, Montana, etc. McConnell’s negative, wasteful spending should stop, and he frankly ought to be fired for Political Malpractice.”
Moore supporter, pastor, businessman, and Republican Activist Dr. Stan Cooke said in a statement: “Judge Moore needs your financial support and your Vote. Fight the Swamp and the Million Dollar Slush Fund of Mitch McConnell and Carl Rove. Think on this, without the Swamp Money, Big Luther would not be in the run-off. Roy Moore for US Senate.”
The Special Primary Runoff will be on September 26. The winner of the GOP runoff will face Democratic nominee Doug Jones in the December 12, Special General Election.
Original reporting by Western Journalism’s Randy DeSoto and Ballotpedia contributed to this report.