New leader in Alabama Senate primary: Roy Moore, of course

As you’d expect, he’s succeeding on the strength of [checks notes] the woman vote.

Women tend to be more religious than men and Moore’s political brand is all about religion, so maybe that’s why? I got nothin’ otherwise.

Back in February, when he was making noise about possibly running again, I argued he’d be DOA in a primary for two reasons. One: This time the party would unite to stop him, from Trump to McConnell to state leaders to even some populist tastemakers who don’t want to risk a repeat of 2017. GOP bigwigs would huddle and throw their weight behind a rival candidate, maybe Bradley Byrne, maybe Mo Brooks, but someone, and Moore would be sunk. Two: Even if that didn’t happen for whatever reason, Alabama’s Republican voters would themselves fear a rerun of the Moore/Doug Jones special election and would rally to some other candidate to avoid it. One way or another, there just won’t be enough of an appetite in the state to roll the dice on Moore again.

What I didn’t count on is that the race might attract prominent outsider candidates like former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville who aren’t under the party’s control. This poll didn’t measure Tuberville’s support but the more contestants there are in the primary, the greater the risk that the anti-Moore vote will splinter many different ways, propelling Moore towards victory. As for my confidence that the grassroots would reject Moore even if the establishment failed to block him, well, we have some data about that right here in front of us. How good does that prediction look?

Bear in mind that with Trump at the top of the ballot next fall driving massive turnout, it’s highly likely that anyone nominated for Senate by the GOP will win on his coattails. We’re thisclose to Senator Roy Moore after all!

Well … no, not really. He has two massive potholes in front of him on the road to the Senate. One is his favorable rating: This same poll has Byrne at 25/2 in favorability among Alabama Republicans, Brooks at 27/8, and Moore at … 34/29. (Another 33 percent are “neutral.”) Fully 46 percent say they don’t know enough about Byrne yet to have an opinion but just four percent say the same of Moore. He’s leading here purely on the strength of name recognition. A guy who’s barely above water in popularity among his own party, is facing a race against one well-liked congressman in Byrne, and may yet have to cope with competition from Brooks for the populist vote is not winning a primary for a Senate seat.

Which brings us to the other obstacle. Even if the establishment fails to unite behind a rival in the interest of stopping Moore and he ends up finishing first, unless he takes 50 percent of the vote he’ll be forced into a runoff with the second-place finisher. (That’s what happened in the 2017 special election, you may remember.) And there’s no way Moore is taking 50 percent against a multi-candidate field with participants as formidable as Byrne in it. His best-case scenario is that he ends up in a runoff, and the runoff would quickly become a referendum on the question of “We’re not actually going to nominate this guy again, are we?” How does he win that? In a test of Moore vs. Not Moore, Alabamians will remember 2017 and opt for Not Moore. Particularly with Trump goading them to do so in the interest of holding the Senate.

The only wrinkle is that Brooks, who’s in second in the poll, isn’t sure to run and thrives with the sort of populist voter who might prefer Moore as a second choice. If Brooks ends up passing, Moore might be stronger than everyone expects. Although still not strong enough to win. Exit quotation from Twitter pal CuffyMeh, reading this poll: “Looks like Roy Moore is finally getting out of the teens.”

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