Former federal prosecutor Doug Jones wins Democratic nod
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — U.S. Senator Luther Strange has survived the first hurdle in his quest to hang on to his seat but must now overturn a lead opened up by conservative culture warrior Roy Moore in the first round of voting in an Alabama GOP special election primary.
Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, won 39 percent of the vote in the August 15 vote, to 33 percent for Strange, who got the benefit of a late-stage endorsement by President Trump to edge out U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Huntsville for second spot in the September 26 runoff.
Brooks won 20 percent, and the question now is where his voters go after an acrimonious campaign, during which groups aligned with the Senate Republican leadership poured in millions of dollars to bolster Strange by targeting both Brooks and Moore.
After conceding defeat, Brooks offered no formal endorsement, but he complained to reporters that “the non-stop carpet bombing of my reputation and Roy Moore’s reputation, quite frankly, it took a toll in the parts of the state where I was not very well known.”
In his victory speech, Moore made a directly play for the votes of the six candidates eliminated in the first round of voting, saying “the attempt by the silk-stocking Washington elitists to control the vote of the people of Alabama has failed.”
“I extend my hand of friendship to my fellow candidates who did not make this runoff,” he said. “Those candidates ran an honorable and ethical campaign. They ran on their own merits and not on the negative attack ads of (Strange).”
A runoff victory by Moore — twice thrown off Alabama’s highest court for defying federal court rulings on same-sex marriage and display of the Ten Commandments — would present a challenge to the GOP’s image nationally and would also be a rebuke to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom Moore has disparaged on the campaign trail.
Trump, too, has a vested interest in Strange’s survival after endorsing him a week before the primary, even though Moore — who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House — has cast himself as a solid supporter of the president’s agenda.
Meanwhile, in the Democratic primary, the victor was Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, who took 65 percent of the vote to win over seven other candidates.
The Democratic winner will face an uphill climb in a state where a Democrat hasn’t won a Senate seat in 25 years, although the prospect of facing Moore in the general election may give Democrats a glimmer of hope.
Addressing supporters after his win, Jones tried to contrast himself with the Republican candidates by casting himself as “an independent voice.”
“I’m not going to be beholden to a president or a party leader. I’m going to be beholden only to the state of Alabama,” he said. “Tonight we have taken that first step.”
At the time, Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and his office had been involved in investigating the governor’s conduct. Bentley also handed Strange another gift, delaying a special election to permanently fill the Senate seat until November 2018, which would have given 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. And although Strange has strongly denied any impropriety, the unusual circumstances of his appointment by the disgraced Bentley have dogged him in the Senate race.
Moore, 70, first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 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.
After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate.