GOP Senate Candidate Makes McConnell Top Target in Alabama RaceBy
Roy Moore says majority leader seeks to preserve status quo
Republican Senate contenders pledge allegiance to Trump agenda
A Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama revved up supporters packed into a stuffy gymnasium by attacking his own party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, and the millions of dollars his allies have poured into the race.
Candidate Roy Moore warned backers that the majority leader is trying to preserve the “Washington swamp.” He chastised the Senate Leadership Fund, a super-political action committee linked to McConnell, for bankrolling his opponent, GOP Senator Luther Strange.
“Will McConnell’s forces be able to control the senators coming up, with their money, their millions of dollars of money, in the Senate Leadership Fund?” Moore, 70, asked at a rally Sunday at Shoals Christian School in Florence, near Alabama’s northwestern border with Tennessee.
The Sept. 26 runoff election in Alabama will test establishment Republicans’ ability to fend off challenges by the party’s anti-Washington faction in next year’s midterm elections, when one-third of the Senate seats are on the ballot. The race will also demonstrate President Donald Trump’s ability to influence an election in a state he easily won last year.
Trump, who won after campaigning against establishment Republicans, is backing Strange and plans to fly to the state for a rally this weekend. Strange also is backed by Alabama’s other senator, Richard Shelby, and groups including the National Rifle Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Gay Marriage Rhetoric
Strange, 64 -- appointed to the Senate seat this year after Jeff Sessions became U.S. attorney general -- came in second behind Moore in an Aug. 15 primary that featured several other GOP candidates. Because there wasn’t a decisive winner, the two candidates with the most votes are facing a runoff.
Moore is known outside Alabama mostly for being removed twice as chief justice of the state Supreme Court -- in 2003 for refusing to take down a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama judicial building, and in 2016 for telling state judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.
He isn’t toning down his rhetoric in this race. At the Florence rally, Moore said the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision had “destroyed” the definition of marriage and said “polygamy has more basis than same-sex marriage” in U.S. history. He lamented "blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting" while arguing that only God can unite different groups of Americans.
“People ask, ‘Well, if you go to Congress are you going to say these things?’ If I’m going to Congress why shouldn’t I say these things?” Moore said. “Why are we silent?”
Both Republican candidates say they’re strong Trump supporters. Strange says he’ll help enact Trump’s agenda while Moore says the GOP’s establishment wing is trying to block the president’s policies.
Though Trump is joining McConnell in backing Strange, the president also has publicly blamed the Senate majority leader for the chamber’s failure in July to repeal Obamacare. Last month, the president tweeted: “Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done.” The president also tweeted that the majority leader should “get back to work.”
Some Trump supporters said in interviews that they won’t follow the president’s advice to vote for Strange.
“We support Trump, we support what he’s doing, but I don’t think that he knows the candidates quite as well as we do here, and I think he’s just mistaken on this one,” said Andrew Sorrell, 31-year-old entrepreneur from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, who attended the Moore rally.
Moore has painted himself as a defender of religious liberty facing character attacks from the “swamp,” the name Trump has given to entrenched Washington interests.
“They can’t run on their qualifications, they just want to tear the other candidate down to win an election,” Moore said Sunday. He called the runoff election a “prelude to Senate elections all across the country” in 2018, when he said GOP leaders may try to keep other insurgents from defeating Republican incumbents.
Strange has fought against the establishment label by portraying himself as an outsider and emphasizing the president’s endorsement.
"We’re all mad at Washington politicians who side with the liberal media to stop our president," Strange says in a TV ad. "I’m fighting to pass our president’s agenda."
Perry Hooper, former co-chairman of the president’s Alabama campaign, said McConnell’s support is an asset for Strange.
He is "being heavily supported by both the leader of the United States Senate and the president of the United States," Hooper said in a phone interview. "What more do you really want in the great state of Alabama?"
The Senate Leadership Fund has spent $4 million since the primary to support Strange. Most of that money has been used on attack ads against Moore, criticizing him for paying himself and his wife over $1 million from a charity they run and accusing Moore of not supporting the president’s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Moore told reporters Sunday the ads are false. Politifact, a fact-checking website, rated the charity pay ad “mostly true” and the border wall ad “mostly false.”
Moore, on the other hand, is getting a boost from Breitbart, the website run by Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon, and Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservative Fund, a group that says it backs candidates who will cut spending, repeal Obamacare and back gun rights.
“There’s a lot of people in these states out West and across the South and the midsection that are waiting to see if somebody can take on the Washington establishment,” Moore told reporters Sunday. “I’ve for better or worse taken on the Washington establishment, or they’ve taken me on.”
Steve Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, pointed to Strange’s endorsements from the president and groups like the National Rifle Association as evidence of his strength over Moore.
"He is the preferred choice of Republican and conservative organizations far beyond our little group," Law said.
The winner of the Alabama GOP contest will face Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, in a Dec. 12 special election.
Strange’s bid to keep the seat has been hurt by his ties to Alabama’s former governor, Robert Bentley, who appointed Strange to fill Sessions’ seat until the special election.
Bentley pleaded guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance law violations and resigned in April while facing possible impeachment over allegations he used state resources to cover up an extramarital affair with an aide. Strange was Alabama attorney general at the time, and his office was investigating Bentley when the governor appointed him to the Senate seat.