If you’re paying attention to the Alabama GOP primary to fill Jeff Sessions’s Senate seat, and you should be, you’ll find live results below courtesy of Decision Desk HQ. (Polls close at 8 p.m. ET.) Ed did his best to make the race suspenseful in a post this morning but the polls aren’t cooperating. It looks like Roy Moore will finish first followed by incumbent Luther Strange, with populist Mo Brooks ending up a possibly distant third. The top two advance to a runoff unless this evening’s winner tops 50 percent, but there’s little chance of that. The best anyone’s done in a poll this summer is the 38 percent Moore pulled in the latest survey from the Trafalgar Group. No one’s in serious contention to hit 50.
Why watch the results, then? Because: There are potentially major implications for Trump if Strange either strongly overperforms or underperforms. Trump has endorsed Strange repeatedly on Twitter over the past week; Strange is also backed by Mitch McConnell, who sees him as more of a team player in his caucus than either Brooks or Moore would be. (Case in point, both of the latter have endorsed ending the filibuster for legislation, something McConnell and a majority of the Senate oppose.) If Strange surprises everyone by finishing first, Trump’s support will be touted as having made the difference. The media will call it a yuuuge win for the president and a testament to his continuing influence in red states. It’ll also put to bed suspicions that Alabama is mad at him because of his shabby treatment of Sessions lately. It’d be a nice score for Trump at a moment when he could use one.
If Brooks stuns Strange by nudging him for second place, though, pushing the incumbent out of the runoff, the media will rip Trump apart. They’ll accuse him of having lost his touch among southern populists and of having alienated Alabamians with his Twitter war on Sessions. He’ll be left looking weak in a red-state stronghold and foolish for having bet on McConnell’s establishment candidate instead of the anti-establishmentarian Brooks, who begged Trump for his support in campaign ads recently. Another possible consequence: It might save Steve Bannon’s job. Whether Trump is really as close to firing him as the media has claimed lately is known only to Trump himself, but if it’s true that Bannon’s on thin ice, a populist rebuke in Alabama would help thicken it. It’d be easy for Bannon to point to the result as proof that Trump has wandered too far from the agenda that got him elected and that it’s time to retrench. That means more Bannon and less Kushner/McMaster/Cohn. Tonight, in other words, is a rare occasion on which Trump fans should logically hope that the president’s favored candidate fails miserably. It may be the quickest way to get him to tack back towards the program he ran and won on.