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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam won’t run for U.S. Senate; U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is in

Haslam’s decision portends wide open, crowded GOP primary race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CNN) — Outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam has decided not to seek Tennessee’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2018, which means the chase for the GOP nomination will likely be fought out among a crowded slate of candidates without his statewide electoral experience.

As Haslam announced he wouldn’t run, a veteran member of the Volunteer State’s U.S. House delegation, Marsha Blackburn from Brentwood, announced that she was would seek the Republican nomination for the seat being vacated after two terms by the retiring U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

U.S. Rep. Masha Blackburn, R-Tennessee

In her announcement video, Blackburn — describing herself as a “hardcore card-carrying Tennessee conservative” with a gun in her purse — offered a full-throated blast at sitting senators in her own party.

“The fact that our majority in the U.S. Senate can’t overturn Obamacare, or will not overturn Obamacare, it’s a disgrace,” she said. “Too many Senate Republicans act like Democrats or worse, and that’s what we have to change.”

Blackburn, 65, was first elected in 2002 to represent Tennessee’s 7th District, which takes in Nashville’s southern suburbs and the west-central part of the state. She served on President Trump’s transition team after his election in 2016.

After Corker announced his retirement on September 26, the attention in Tennessee political circles turned to Haslam, who is term-limited in 2016 but retains strong approval ratings after eight years in office. The governor is also a billionaire, thanks to his family’s truck stop business, which would have given him considerable personal financial resources to bring to a Senate race.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam

But announcing his decision not to run on Twitter, Haslam said a Senate run “would be a distraction” during his last 15 months as governor.

“I want to remain completely focused on my job,” he said. “At the end of my term, I will have been in public office for 15 years. I feel like I can be most helpful in my next service as a private citizen.”

Haslam, 59, was mayor of Knoxville before being elected governor in 2010. He was re-elected in 2014 with 70 percent of the vote.

Corker’s departure creates a wide open field on the Republican side that is likely to become a battle between the party’s establishment and populist factions. Among those considering the race are former State Rep. Joe Carr, who waged an unsuccessful attempt to oust U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014, and State Senator Mark Green, whom Trump nominated as Secretary of the Army earlier this year.

Green later withdrew his nomination after controversy arose over his past derogatory statements about transgendered people and Muslims.

Blackburn is so far the only member of the House delegation to jump into the Senate race, although former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, who left the House in 2017 after serving three terms, is considering a run.

The only Democrat in the race so far is James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran, although Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke may also be considering a run. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Tennessee back in 2006, has bowed out.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore was re-elected. But the unexpected opening created by Corker’s retirement creates a vacancy that could help Democrats as they try to claw their way back into the Senate majority.

Six Southern states will select Senators in 2018, and incumbents are expected to run in all but Tennessee — Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. The seats in Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia are held by Democrats; Texas and Mississippi are held by Republicans.

Roy Moore ousts Luther Strange in Alabama U.S. Senate GOP runoff

Victory by insurgent Moore a blow to President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CNN) — In a rebuke to Senate Republican leaders and President Donald Trump, Alabama Republicans have chosen former Roy Moore, a man twice removed as chief justice of the state’s highest court, for a U.S. Senate seat over incumbent Luther Strange, who failed to secure by election the post he gained by appointment just seven months ago.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore, 70, who became a darling of Christian conservatives by defying federal court orders on displaying the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage, took 55 percent of the vote in the September 26 runoff to 45 percent for Strange, who had the backing of both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I never prayed to win this campaign. I only prayed that God’s will be done,” Moore told his cheering supporters in Montgomery. “We have to return the knowledge of God and the knowledge of the Constitution of the United States to the United States Congress.”

And despite Trump’s conspicuous support for Strange, Moore said, “Don’t let anybody in the press think that because he supported my opponent that I don’t support him and support his agenda … as long as its constitutional.”

After Strange’s defeat became clear, Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican Primary win in Alabama. Luther Strange started way back & ran a good race. Roy, WIN in Dec!”

Strange, who gave up being state attorney general to take the Senate appointment, could not hold his seat despite solid establishment support and a huge financial advantage over Moore. Speaking to supporters in Birmingham, he acknowledged that his campaign failed to navigate the anti-establishment waves now coursing through American politics.

“We’re dealing with a political environment that I’ve never had any experience with,” Strange said. “The political winds in the country right now … are very hard to understand.”

Strange also thanked Trump and said the responsibility for his loss lies with him, not the president.

“If this causes him any trouble, it’s not his fault,” Strange said. “The fault always lies in the candidate or the head coach or the guy holding the ball.”

Moore will now face Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, in a general election on December 12. And although Democrats haven’t won a Senate election in Alabama in 25 years, the nomination of the controversial Moore provides at least a glimmer of hope for an upset.

Jones, speaking to supporters in Birmingham as the results of the GOP race were coming in, predicted that he would win in December once voters began focusing on issues.

“We have the wind at our back,” Jones said. “We believe we have the issues people care about which you have not heard any discussions about. People are concerned about health care and the economy. People want to see this state moving forward. I believe that we can do that.”

Moore’s nomination also means that McConnell faces the unpleasant prospect of having a new member in his caucus who has castigated McConnell on the campaign trail and called for his ouster — no small consideration given that Republicans have a thin majority of just 52 seats in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell went all in for Strange during the primary. The Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC affiliated with the majority leader, poured more than $5 million into the race, the bulk of it for attack ads against Moore.

Both Strange and Moore cast themselves as champions of Trump’s agenda, in a state where he remains popular. But the president put his personal power and prestige on the line for Strange, formally endorsing him just a week before the first round of voting in August and coming to Alabama to campaign with him four days before the runoff.

During Trump’s pre-election appearance in Huntsville, he conceded that his endorsement of Strange might turn out to be a mistake should the senator lose — but that he would campaign “like hell” for Moore if he won.

The battle in Alabama became a proxy war between the Senate GOP leaders and their intra-party critics, who have embraced the Moore candidacy as a way of giving McConnell a black eye. Breitbart News, the website run by Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, banged its drum for Moore, and former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin campaigned by his side.

The twist in the Alabama race was that Trump was on the side of the GOP establishment, rather than Moore, the insurgent outsider who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Strange, 64, was appointed to the Senate in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general.

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.

The circumstances of Strange’s appointment, and the perception that it might have been the result of a political deal with the disgraced Bentley, dogged the senator throughout the campaign, even though he has strongly denied any impropriety and no evidence of a corrupt bargain has surfaced.

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Moore 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.

Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker won’t seek re-election in 2018

Departure of former Chattanooga mayor sets off scramble for suddenly vacant Senate seat

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

NASHVILLE (CFP) — U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee has announced that he won’t seek re-election to a third term in 2018, setting off what’s likely to be a high-octane battle between establishment and populist Republicans vying to succeed him, along with providing a possible opening for Democrats.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker

“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms,” Corker said in a statement announcing his retirement. “Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me.”

In his statement, Corker also made this oblique reference that will likely set off much rumination over what he meant: “The most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career.”

Corker, 65, served four years as mayor of Chattanooga before being elected to the Senate in 2006 to replace the retiring Bill Frist, after a hard-fought race with Democratic U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. He was re-elected in 2012 with 65 percent of the vote, and became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2015.

Had he sought re-election, Corker would have been the prohibitive favorite in 2018, but he would also have faced a primary challenge from the populist wing of the GOP, whose activists are expected to target a number of Senators in the Republican leadership in 2018.

Corker made headlines in August when he told a local television station in Chattanooga that President Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Trump responded with a Tweet: “Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in ’18. Tennessee not happy!”

Corker’s departure creates a wide open field on the Republican side that is likely to become a battle between the party’s establishment and populist factions. Among those considering the race are former State Rep. Joe Carr, who waged an unsuccessful attempt to oust U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in 2014, and State Senator Mark Green, whom Trump nominated as Secretary of the Army earlier this year.

Green later withdrew his nomination after controversy arose over his past derogatory statements about transgendered people and Muslims.

Among the establishment Republicans being mentioned are U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, from Williamson County near Nashville, and outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam from Knoxville, who is term limited in the governorship in 2018.

The only Democrat in the race so far is James Mackler, a Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, the last Democrat to win a statewide race in Tennessee back in 2006, has said he does not plan to run.

A Democrat has not won a Senate race in the Volunteer State since 1990, when Al Gore was re-elected. But the unexpected opening created by Corker’s retirement creates a vacancy that could help Democrats as they try to claw their way back into the Senate majority.

Six Southern states will select Senators in 2018, and incumbents are expected to run in all but Tennesse — Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. The seats in Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia are held by Democrats; Texas and Mississippi are held by Republicans.

Trump stumps for U.S. Senator Luther Strange ahead of Alabama runoff

President tells Huntsville crowd that his endorsement of Strange might turn out to be a “mistake” if he loses

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (CFP) — President Donald Trump put his power and prestige directly on the line by traveling to Alabama to campaign for U.S. Senator Luther Strange, who is locked in bruising GOP primary runoff against former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Trump and Strange onstage in Huntsville (Photo: Twitter)

But addressing Strange’s supporters in Huntsville just four days before Alabama Republicans make their decision, Trump conceded that his endorsement of Strange might turn out to be a mistake should the senator lose — and that he would campaign “like hell” for Moore if the challenger wins the September 26 vote.

“I’m taking a big risk, because if he doesn’t make it, they’re going to go after me,” Trump said, a reference to the likely media reaction if Moore wins.

“If Luther doesn’t win, they’re not going to say we picked up 25 points in a very short period of time. They’re going to say, ‘Donald Trump, the president of the United States, was unable to pull his candidate across the line. It is a terrible, terrible moment for Trump,'” he said.

However, Trump also said that he thought a Moore victory in the primary could put the seat Alabama seat in play in November, in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in 25 years.

“Roy has a very good chance of not winning in the general election,” Trump said. “Moore is going to have a hard time winning.”

The Democratic nominee is Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, whose uphill task in deep red Alabama might be less uphill against someone with Moore’s controversial past, which includes being ousted twice from his chief justice post for defying federal court rulings.

Both Strange and Moore have cast themselves as champions of the president’s agenda, in a state where Trump remains popular. But it was Strange who earned a formal endorsement from Trump just a week before the first round of voting in August, which Moore won.

Since then, Moore has been endorsed by the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, and received support from Breitbart News, the website run by Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin also traveled to Alabama to campaign with Moore.

In addition to Trump, Strange has received support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies, who have dumped millions into the race on his behalf.

The battle in Alabama has become a proxy war between the Senate GOP leaders and their intra-party critics, who have embraced the Moore candidacy as a way of giving McConnell a black eye — and possibly saddling him with a Republican caucus member who has publicly and repeatedly called for his ouster.

The twist in the Alabama race is that Trump is on the side of the GOP establishment, rather than Moore, the insurgent outsider who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House.

Five statewide polls taken since the first round of primary voting in August have shown Moore with a lead beyond the statistical margin of error; in three others, the margin between the candidates was not large enough to draw inferences about the state of the race.

The latest poll, a September 18 survey from JMC Analytics, showed an inconclusive margin between the candidates. However, that was a marked shift from the same poll in August, which had Moore with a 19-point lead over Strange.

About 13 percent of voters polled in the survey said they were still undecided.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Strange, 64, was appointed to the Senate in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general.

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.

The circumstances of Strange’s appointment, and the perception that it might have been the result of a political deal with the disgraced Bentley, have dogged the senator throughout the campaign, even though he has strongly denied any impropriety and no evidence of a corrupt bargain has surfaced.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

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.

Alabama GOP U.S. Senate primary runoff battle heads down to the wire

A Roy Moore victory would be win for religious conservatives — and a loss for Trump and McConnell

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — With just a week to go before Alabama Republicans decide on their U.S. Senate nominee, the burning political question across the Yellowhammer State is, can Roy Moore really pull it off?

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Polls show Moore — an unapologetic culture warrior twice elected and twice removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defying federal courts — has a clear shot at knocking off U.S. Senator Luther Strange, which would be politically embarrassing for both President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have backed Strange to the hilt.

Trump, who despite his political difficulties nationally remains popular in Alabama, will campaign with Strange in Huntsville on the Friday before the runoff, even though Moore — who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House — has also cast himself as a solid supporter of the president’s agenda.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Five statewide polls taken since the first round of primary voting in August have shown Moore with a lead beyond the statistical margin of error; in three others, the margin between the candidates was not large enough to draw inferences about the state of the race.

The latest poll, a September 18 survey from JMC Analytics, showed an inconclusive margin between the candidates. However, that was a marked shift from the same poll in August, which had Moore with a 19-point lead over Strange.

About 13 percent of voters polled in the survey said they were still undecided.

Moore got a major boost on when he was endorsed by the candidate who placed third in the first round of voting on August 15, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks.

“We are in an epic battle between the people of Alabama who put America first and the Washington swamp that hopes to buy our Senate seat and put America last,” Brooks said at a September 16 Moore campaign rally in Huntsville.

The battle in Alabama has become a proxy war between the Senate GOP leaders and their intra-party critics, who have embraced the Moore candidacy as a way of giving McConnell a black eye — and possibly saddling him with a Republican caucus member who has publicly and repeatedly called for McConnell’s ouster.

Most recently, Breitbart News, the website run by Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has been boosting Moore, even as the president has waded further into the fray for Strange.

A victory by the Moore would also cheer Democrats, who haven’t won a Senate race in Alabama in 25 years. Waiting in the wings for the GOP runoff winner is Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, whose uphill task in deep red Alabama might be less uphill against someone with Moore’s controversial past.

Strange, 64, was appointed to the Senate in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general.

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.

The circumstances of Strange’s appointment, and the perception that it might have been the result of a political deal with the disgraced Bentley, have dogged the senator throughout the campaign, even though he has strongly denied any impropriety and no evidence of a corrupt bargain has surfaced.

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.

Roy Moore, Luther Strange advance to Alabama U.S. Senate runoff

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.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

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.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

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.”

Strange, 64, was appointed to the Senate in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general.

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.

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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