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Trump’s visit appears not to have shifted landscape in Senate race

By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter

Less than 24 hours before polls open in the U.S. Senate special primary runoff, former Chief Justice Roy Moore appears to be maintaining a sizable lead over incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, according to new polls released over the weekend and Monday.

The most recent poll, conducted by Cygnal research between Aug. 23–24, shows Moore leading Strange by 11 percentage points overall. Among those who have definitely chosen a candidate, Moore leads by 12 percentage points.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The poll interviewed more than 990 Republican primary runoff voters using landline telephones.

“[There is a] 92 percent chance that Roy Moore wins,” said Brent Buchanan, founder and president of Cygnal. “I do not believe Moore will win by 12 points as the poll shows. Six to nine points is more likely.”

The poll was conducted on Saturday and Sunday after President Donald Trump’s high-profile visit to a campaign rally in Huntsville for Strange. The visit, along with a visit Monday night by Vice President Mike Pence, was intended to bolster Strange’s lagging campaign.

While Trump’s visit may not have had a big effect on the landscape, his endorsement, which came before the Aug. 15 primary, did appear to make a difference.

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“Our poll completed right after Trump’s visit definitely shows that Trump’s favorability has not lifted Strange anymore beyond the original endorsement,” Buchanan said. “It could be seen in the poll that half of Strange’s support comes from the endorsement.”

Thirty-one percent of respondents said Trump’s endorsement influenced them to vote for Strange, 30 percent said it made them want to vote for Moore and a plurality of 39 percent said it had no effect on their preferred candidate.

Fewer than 400,000 people are expected to turn out for the runoff election — in a state with more than 3 million registered voters. New crossover-voting laws, the fact it’s a special election and low favorability among the two candidates could be contributing to the lower-than-average expected turnout.

“Probably Strange” voters said they were significantly less likely to vote compared to “Probably Moore” voters. About 69 percent of Strange voters said they will vote compared to 93 percent of Moore voters.

Moore has been known in Alabama politics for his narrow but enthusiastic base, which is one factor that could be working in Moore’s favor.

“A special election turnout scenario definitely amplifies Moore’s base’s impact,” Buchanan said. “The other could be the huge volume of negative advertising that is helping solidify his base and turn off potential low propensity voters.”

The Cygnal poll is one of many recent polls that show Moore with a significant lead. According to the RealClearPolitics Average of six polls conducted between Sept. 16 and Sept. 24, Moore has a 10 percentage point lead over Strange.

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Strange has been backed by established forces in Washington including Trump. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has dolled out millions in ad buys, which have, for the most part, attacked Moore instead of praising Strange.

According to the Cygnal poll, the advertisements appear not to have made a significant difference with the majority of respondents saying that the ads did not affect their decision. Amond Moore voters, it appeared to have hardened his support.

The U.S. Senate race has been heated since the start, pitting two of Alabama’s most prominent elected officials against one another. Moore — who has twice served as Alabama’s chief justice before being removed both times — has strong support among more conservative and evangelical Christian voters, according to recent polling.

Moore was removed from his position as Alabama’s chief judicial officer in 2003 after refusing to remove a 4,000-pound granite Ten Commandments monument from the state’s judicial building. He was effectively removed a second time last year after a judicial panel found that he had directed the state’s 67 probate judges to defy the U.S. Supreme Court.

In all four major media markets, Moore has sizable leads. In Huntsville, Moore leads Strange by 8 percentage points, by 3 percentage points in Birmingham, by 33 percentage points in Montgomery and by 2 percentage points in Mobile.

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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