Luther Strange had almost everything that a candidate could ask for in the race to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate.
Besides being the incumbent, the former state attorney general had the endorsement of President Donald Trump, something he mentioned to voters repeatedly in the week leading up to Tuesday’s GOP runoff election. He also had millions of dollars in advertising support from the Senate Leadership Fund, controlled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, as well as the National Rifle Association’s political action committee. Both PACs flooded Alabama television and radio stations with commercials, and they were omnipresent on the internet as well.
But Roy Moore had more. In particular, he had more votes.
The twice-deposed Alabama chief justice scored a dominating victory in the runoff, a race that the Associated Press called for Moore less than 90 minutes after polls closed. Moore wrapped up the race with 55 percent of the votes, while Strange won 45 percent.
The margin was larger for Moore as early returns trickled in, but the race tightened somewhat as votes were reported from more urban areas, where Strange had better support. But in the end, only four counties — Jefferson (his home), Shelby, Madison and Sumter — went for Strange, with the other 64 in Moore’s column.
In total, 451,161 Alabamians went to the polls Tuesday, just more than 14 percent of the state’s registered voters.
Moore Praises God and the Constitution
Moore in a victory speech that sounded much like a sermon gave the credit for his win to God.
He said he will support President Trump even though Trump did not support him – provided that Trump’s actions are constitutional.
“We want to bring our country back to its greatness, and we can and we will,” Moore said.
Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence congratulated Moore on Twitter Tuesday night and pledged their support in the Dec. 12 general election.
Strange: “We left it all on the court”
At his post-election gathering at the Aloft Hotel in his hometown of Homewood, Strange’s supporters cast a wary eye toward television screens in the lobby. When the early returns showed their candidate struggling, the mood turned downbeat as his staff and friends weaved in and out among a very large contingent of news media, both national and local.
Strange gave his concession speech less than two hours after polls closed.
“It’s not the result we wanted,” Strange said. “We wish him (Moore) the best going forward now.”
Strange, known to most Alabamians as “Big Luther” for his 6-foot-9 frame, drew an analogy to his basketball-playing days.
“We left it all on the court,” Strange said. “I’ve won some last-second games, I’ve lost some last-second games, and I’ve lost some in overtime … . I’m not going to lose sleep tonight. We did the right thing, and we did it the right way.”
Strange thanked Trump as well as Pence, who appeared at a campaign rally in Birmingham on Monday night. Trump also appeared at a similar rally Friday night in Huntsville to stump for Strange, in a speech that was carried live on cable news channels. However, Trump’s call to fire National Football League players protesting alleged police brutality against African-Americans by kneeling during the pre-game playing of the National Anthem overshadowed his support of Strange.
The result will likely be touted by Trump opponents as a political defeat for the president, but it may be McConnell who stands to lose more. His Senate Leadership Fund super-PAC first orchestrated a campaign against Rep. Mo Brooks, who finished third in the Republican primary. After Brooks was eliminated, the SLF set its sights on Moore. The NRA also endorsed Strange, labeling Moore in its TV spots as being “a little soft on gun rights.” Moore countered that charge in a Mobile rally the night before the election by brandishing a handgun on stage, reaffirming his support of Second Amendment issues.
Strange was the state’s attorney general when Gov. Robert Bentley appointed him in February to fill the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, who left after being appointed as attorney general in the Trump administration. Strange was criticized in some quarters for accepting the appointment after dropping an investigation of Bentley, who later resigned as part of a plea bargain.
Bentley had favored allowing Strange to serve until the next regular federal election, in 2018. But Gov. Kay Ivey, who took over for Bentley, instead decided to hold a special election. The race has drawn national attention, largely due to the involvement of Trump, Pence and McConnell.
Racing Toward the General
Moore will now face off against Democrat nominee Doug Jones, the former U.S. attorney who in 2001 and 2002 successfully prosecuted the case against klansmen Bobby Cherry and Thomas Blanton for their roles in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which killed four African-American girls in 1963. Jones won the Democratic primary in August with an outright majority, avoiding a runoff.
“Since the beginning of this race, I have focused on issues that matter to the people of Alabama – health care, jobs and the economy,” Jones said in a prepared statement emailed to the news media after Moore’s victory. “Unfortunately, there has been little discussion about those issues in the bitter race of the last few weeks. These are not Democratic issues. These are not Republican issues.”
Jones plans to kick off his general election campaign today with an appearance at Niki’s West, a popular Birmingham restaurant spot.
What They’re Saying
The special election in Alabama to fill a U.S. Senate seat has drawn national attention. Here’s a sampling of stories published after the election results were in.
New York Times
This story has been corrected to add Sumter County to the list of counties where a majority of voters cast ballots for Strange.