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Luther Strange gets Trump endorsement in Alabama U.S. Senate primary

Opponent Mo Brooks says president was “misled” into endorsing Jeff Sessions’s successor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — A week before Alabama Republicans go to the polls to decide a hotly contested U.S. Senate primary, U.S. Senator Luther Strange has snagged a coveted endorsement from President Trump, in a race where a host of GOP candidates have been vying to claim the Trump mantle.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

“Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!” Trump said in an August 8 tweet.

One of the men Strange is battling for a spot in a likely Republican runoff, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, reacted by firing off a statement suggesting Trump has been misled into supporting Strange by the Washington establishment, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I respect President Trump, but I am baffled and disappointed Mitch McConnell and the Swamp somehow misled the president into endorsing Luther Strange,” Brooks said. “While Mitch McConnell and the Swamp managed to mislead the president last night, I still support the America First Agenda. … We believe our message will win out over the Swamp and Lyin’ Luther.”

Strange was appointed to the Senate temporarily in February after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general. He is running in an August 15 special election primary to fill the seat permanently, a race that has attracted eight GOP candidates

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks

All three of the leading Republicans — Strange, Brooks and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore  — have emphasized their support for the president on the campaign trail. But Brooks, who initially supported U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in last year’s presidential race, may have run afoul of Trump in July by coming to Sessions’s defense after the president made noises about firing the attorney general.

Brooks offered to drop out of the race and let Sessions have his Senate seat back, provided the other candidates also agreed to withdraw. None of them did, and, in the end, Trump did not fire Sessions.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore, who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House, joined Brooks in attributing his endorsement of Strange to the Washington establishment.

“The people of Alabama know me and know that I will stand for the principles which made this country great,” Moore said in the statement. “All of the money, power and prestige of Washington D.C. will not determine who the people will elect as the next senator.”

Polls have shown the race headed to a September 26 runoff, with Moore in the lead and Strange and Brooks battling for second place.

Strange’s pitched battle to stay in the Senate is not what he expected when he was appointed to the post in February by former Governor Robert Bentley. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, giving Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election, which opened the floodgates for candidates eager to send Strange back home.

McConnell has backed Strange, and a PAC affiliated with the Senate leader has run ads against both Brooks, a House Freedom Caucus member who has called for McConnell’s ouster, and Moore, whose controversial past has made him a darling of the religious right but a polarizing figure both nationally and in Alabama.

In 1995, Moore, then a little-known circuit court judge in Etowah County, shot to national notoriety after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

While Strange and the other Republicans battle for their party’s nomination, seven Democrats are vying for a spot in the general election against the winner. Limited polling in the Democratic race has shown a lead for Robert Kennedy, Jr. — not the son of the slain U.S. senator but a Mobile businessman and former naval officer who appears to be benefiting from name misrecognition, in a race full of little known candidates.

Former U.S.Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham, the choice of Democratic party leaders, is in the second spot in the polls.

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