Get ready for another special election today, this time in deep-red Alabama, and perhaps one with some sense of drama. The three men vying to portray themselves as the closest to Donald Trump need to pull off a miracle today to keep from having to do this all over again in six weeks. And right now, none of the three major contenders for Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat looks close to getting to 50% and avoiding the need for a primary run-off:
If none of the nine candidates garner more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two contenders will head to a Sept. 26 runoff. The top three candidates who have been polling ahead of the rest of the field are the incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat in February after Sessions resigned to become attorney general; Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice; and Rep. Mo Brooks of the 5th District.
Most of the national headlines have gone to Brooks, who has tried to attack Strange as a globalist stooge of Mitch McConnell, bent on undermining Trump. Brooks’ main obstacle in this strategy has been … Donald Trump. The president went out of his way to endorse Strange on Twitter yesterday, after doing so last week too. And Trump added the hat trick this morning:
Luther Strange of the Great State of Alabama has my endorsement. He is strong on Border & Wall, the military, tax cuts & law enforcement.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 14, 2017
Senator Luther Strange, who is doing a great job for the people of Alabama, will be on @foxandfriends at 7:15. Tough on crime, borders etc.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2017
Not only is Trump endorsing Strange, he’s doing Strange’s PR, too.
All of this might be just to see who can squeeze into the runoff. While the Brooks-Strange feud has captured the national headlines, controversial former Alabama Supreme Court justice Roy Moore has captured the polling lead. Most expect Moore to finish in first place today, but far below what he needs to avoid the runoff, as his polling generally puts him in the low-30s. With Trump’s endorsement, Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman predicts a better turnout from his base, which could spell trouble for Brooks, but it won’t push anyone near the 50%-plus-one-vote threshold needed to avoid the runoff.
Moore’s relatively low national profile appears to be helping him. Strange may get battered by the tsunami of unhappiness over the failed ObamaCare repeal bill, even if he steadfastly backed it all along. Politico’s curtain-raiser notes that Moore’s team is confident they may surpass the polling today to make a stronger case going into the runoff:
Virtually every poll has shown Moore making the runoff by a comfortable margin. A trio of recent surveys had the judge leading the field with support in the 31 to 35 percent range.
Republican officials expect turnout to be low, which would likely hurt the rest of the field but potentially boost Moore, given his enthusiastic base. At the same time, Moore’s campaign is floating the idea that he could exceed expectations and win somewhere above 35 percent but probably below the 50 percent needed to clinch the nomination outright.
Expect Strange to get into the runoff, if for no other reason than the effect of Trump’s repeated endorsements. But if that happens, watch Brooks. He’s made his animosity to Strange and McConnell well known, and McConnell’s in play in this race, with his PAC dropping seven figures into the special primary. If Brooks loses and then throws his support to Moore, that might be enough to push the former judge into the Senate.
Update: Twitter follower Dane informs me that it should be “Alabamians” in the headline. I’ve fixed it, and thanks for the correction, Dane.