Alabama Senate GOP primary poll shows Luther Strange suddenly within a point of Roy Moore, but...

A rare case where a poll’s intended audience may be just a single person. Remember, Strange was appointed to the Senate after Jeff Sessions became AG and is running in the runoff of the special-election primary to replace him permanently. To the surprise of no one, as an incumbent who’s a team player and who gets along well with the caucus, he was endorsed by Mitch McConnell. To the surprise of many, he was also endorsed by Trump, right around the time that POTUS’s relationship with McConnell began to disintegrate. Why didn’t the populist-in-chief endorse one of Strange’s two populist rivals, Mo Brooks or Roy Moore? It was a, er, strange decision, but Trump may have been looking to do McConnell and the Senate leadership an easy favor to build goodwill.

Two problems with that, though. One: The polling for Strange head-to-head with Moore in the runoff has been brutal. One survey last month had Moore up nearly 20 points, a gruesome result for an incumbent like Strange who enjoys presidential support. Two: Smelling establishment blood, Steve Bannon has decided to wade into this contest on Moore’s side, hoping to turn it into a referendum on populism. Which was smart. Moore looked like a sure winner with or without Bannon’s backing, but now that Bannon’s involved he can take some credit for Moore’s eventual victory and use it as leverage to drag Trump back to the right. “See?” he’ll say to POTUS. “The base wants populism, even when you’re on the other side.” That’s Trump’s cue to walk away from amnesty and get back to meat-and-potatoes nationalism.

But … what if Moore isn’t a sure winner?

The upstart Moore led Strange, appointed when Jeff Sessions resigned to become U.S. attorney general, 41 percent to 40 percent. The special election is Sept. 26.

The survey was produced by Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen Sept. 9-10 for Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that is supporting Strange. President Trump also is backing the senator.

“In just over a month’s time, the gap between Moore and Strange has shrunk, from 6.1 points (Moore’s margin over Strange in the August 15th primary election) to a virtual dead heat,” van Lohuizen said in a memo detailing the poll’s findings.? What if Trump’s support puts Strange over the top after all?

“We saw a substantial change in the image ratings for Roy Moore. Thirty-nine percent now have an unfavorable impression of Moore, an increase of 8 percent compared to 2 weeks ago, while favorable impressions declined by 5 percent (from 59 percent to 54 percent,)” van Lohuizen wrote in the memo.

There you have it. Moore is starting to tank and Strange is starting to surge. But wait — notice anything about the recent polls of this race curated by RCP?

There have been three polls by independent pollsters, all showing Moore primed for a blowout. There have also been three polls, including today’s new one for the Senate Leadership Fund, showing Strange neck and neck with Moore — and all three have been conducted by Republican-affiliated outfits. Quite a coincidence. Elections guru Brandon Finnigan had a laugh about that on Twitter this afternoon:

Moore really *is* headed for a blowout win 12 days from now according to most objective polls and the party establishment is nervous that that’s going to lead Trump to abandon Strange as a lost cause. For Strange to have any shot at an upset, POTUS needs to go to bat for him — but POTUS has no reason to go to bat for him unless he’s convinced that Strange really does have a shot at an upset. So, voila. Not one, not two, but three internal polls over the last six weeks have Strange surprisingly tight with Moore. Now Strange has something he can show Trump in hopes of convincing him to swing by Alabama next week and make a direct appeal to local Republicans to support him. And Strange’s campaign has something it can show his current supporters to convince them that, yes, there really is good reason for them to turn out and vote in the runoff. All’s not lost! He can still win.

Trump was still sticking by his endorsement of Strange as of two days ago but he’s done the bare minimum to help him during the runoff campaign to date. And with Trump and McConnell on the outs, it’s unlikely Trump will lift a finger to try to rescue him over the next two weeks. In lieu of an exit question, here’s the attack ad currently running against Strange from the Bannon-linked Great America Alliance.

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Jazz Shaw 7:31 PM on October 02, 2022