Alabama’s Ten Commandments Candidate May Upend U.S. Senate Order

  • Moore pledged to never compromise on his ‘deeply held values’
  • Republican campaigned against Senate Majority Leader McConnell

Almost nobody has more at stake in Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senate race than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who could see his tenuous majority upended by an uncompromising conservative who campaigned against the GOP leader.

Roy Moore, 70, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is the front-runner in Tuesday’s runoff primary election, and recent polls show him well ahead of McConnell’s preferred candidate, incumbent Senator Luther Strange.

Roy Moore

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

If Moore wins, McConnell will have to work with a senator who has called for him to step down and who has built his brand around a willingness to upset political order -- a threat to the routine of the Senate, which runs on unanimous consent and precedent.

In a fundraising email this month, Moore pledged to “NEVER back down or compromise on our deeply held values and principles.” He also said he would lead an effort to replace McConnell of Kentucky with “a conservative willing to work with Donald Trump to Drain the Swamp.”

Luther Strange

Photographer: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Strange, meanwhile, is stressing his ties to Trump and downplaying Moore’s efforts to tie him to the GOP establishment. “If I were part of the problem, the president wouldn’t be down here campaigning so hard for me,” Strange said Tuesday on Fox News. He and Trump, he said, “have the same goals, the same agenda.”

‘Throw Bombs’

Moore would be a wild card in the Senate, said David Mowery, a Montgomery, Alabama-based political consultant who has worked with Democrats and Republicans.

"Roy Moore has never been a member of a legislative body, he’s only ever been a judge," said Mowery, who isn’t advising any of the candidates in the Senate race. "The guy’s 70 years old. Is he going to take the time to learn the rules and figure out how to make the place work for him or is he just going throw bombs?"

The race is to fill a seat vacated when Trump picked former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. The winner will run in a Dec. 12 special election against Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney who faces an uphill battle in a heavily Republican state.

While both Strange and Moore have pledged their support for Trump, the president is backing Strange. Trump has tweeted about the race and went to Alabama to campaign for Strange, who was appointed by former Governor Robert Bentley to fill Sessions’s seat until the special election.

Moore has a history of refusing to follow directions he doesn’t like. He has been removed from the state Supreme Court two times -- in 2003 for refusing to take down a Ten Commandments statue from the Alabama judicial building and again in 2016 for telling state judges to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage.

While the Republican Party has sought to move on from gay marriage as public acceptance has increased, Moore would likely reignite the fight. During a campaign rally last week in Florence, Alabama, Moore focused primarily on religious liberty and railed against U.S. Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

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.

Delaying Action

In the Senate, Moore would have the power to significantly delay proceedings. The chamber depends on unanimous consent to operate in a timely fashion, and an objection from even one senator can delay the agenda for days. On occasion, senators such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas have ground proceedings to a halt over specific issues, once leading to a government shutdown over a budget dispute.

“I want to be on offense with the president and the vice president because this is a turning point in our country. We can’t have any more obstructionists, any more people that just want to give speeches,” Strange said Tuesday on Fox.

Despite promising to back the president, Moore came out last week against the GOP’s latest attempt to replace Obamacare, a measure proposed by Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy and backed by Trump. A campaign spokesman told MSNBC that Moore objects because the measure doesn’t fully repeal the Affordable Care Act. Strange supports the bill.

Moore has repeatedly chastised the Senate Leadership Fund, a super-political action committee linked to McConnell, for bankrolling Strange, saying the establishment is trying to preserve the status quo.

Steve Law, president of the PAC, said the value of spending money on primary candidates became clear in 2012 after controversial Republican nominees were defeated by Democrats.

Trump said at a Friday night rally for Strange that he stands the best change of prevailing over Jones, the Democrat, in December. "If somebody else wins, I will tell you, that’s going to be a very tough race," he said.

An Emerson College poll conducted Sept. 21-23 contradicted Trump’s assessment of the race -- Moore led Jones 52 percent to 30 percent, while Strange led Jones by 49 percent to 36 percent.

— With assistance by Jennifer Epstein

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