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Election Preview: Governor’s races could make history in Florida, Georgia

Democrats within shooting distance in Oklahoma, Tennessee; GOP incumbents heavily favored in Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and South Carolina

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

(CFP) — Eight Southern governorships are on the ballot in Tuesday’s midterm elections, highlighted by close and contentious races in Florida and Georgia that have garnered national attention.

Abrams

Gillum

Democrats are hoping to make history: If Democrat Andrew Gillum wins in Florida, he will be the Sunshine State’s first African-American governor, while a victory by Democrat Stacey Abrams in Georgia would make her not only its first black governor but also the first woman to hold the post and the first black female governor in U.S. history.

However, in both states, Democratic nominees will have to overcome a long history of Republican control. The last time a Democrat won a governor’s race in Florida was 1994; in Georgia, 1998.

Kemp

DeSantis

In Florida, the Republican nominee is former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who has received considerable help in his quest for the governorship from President Donald Trump. The president stopped twice in Florida to campaign for DeSantis in the closing days of the campaign.

The Republican nominee in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has also benefited from a Trump endorsement and a presidential visit on the Sunday before the vote.

Public polling has shown both races are within the statistical margin of error, which means neither race can be  forecast with certainty heading into election day.

In 2016, Trump carried Florida by a single point and Georgia by 5 points. While Florida has long been a swing state, the result in Georgia was the smallest win by a Republican in the Peach State since 1996, giving Democrats hope that it might be in play in 2020.

A win by either Abrams or Gillum would be a boon to Democratic prospects in 2020. It will also give them a say in redrawing congressional districts after the 2020 census — a process that Republicans have totally controlled in both states for the past decade.

And if the race in Georgia is close, it might not be decided on election night. State law requires a candidate to win an outright majority to claim the governorship. With a Libertarian in the race, neither major-party candidate could reach that threshold, triggering a December 4 runoff between them.

The remaining six Southern governorships up this year — all held by Republicans — look to be more secure, though Democrats may have outside shots in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

In the Sooner State, where Republican Governor Mary Fallin is term-limited, Republican businessman Kevin Stitt is facing former Democratic Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who comes to the race having served 16 years in statewide office.

Approval polling has pegged Fallin as America’s most unpopular governor, which has not helped Stitt’s cause. Oklahoma teachers also went on strike last year in a public display of protest that has reverberated through state politics.

Public polling has shown Stitt with a small lead near the edge of the margin of error. While Stitt is still regarded as the favorite, one prominent national prognosticator, The Cook Political Report, rates the race as a toss-up.

In Tennessee, where voters are also filling an open seat for a term-limited incumbent, Governor Bill Haslam, Republican Bill Lee, a first-time candidate who worked in Haslam’s administration, is facing Democrat Karl Dean, the former mayor of Nashville.

Public polling has shown Lee above 50 percent and with a statistically significant lead over Dean.

Four other governor’s races on the midterm ballot — in Arkansas, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina — all feature Republican incumbents who are expected to easily win re-election:

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Republicans hold 11 of the 14 Southern governorships; Democrats are in charge in North Carolina, Louisiana and Virginia.

See ChickenFriedPolitics.com’s latest ratings for hot governor’s races.

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Southern Primaries: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey seeks full term; U.S. Rep Martha Roby tries to survive backlash over Trump criticism

6 Republicans also battle for open U.S. House seat in Mississippi

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Governor Kay Ivey, who became Alabama’s chief executive last year after her disgraced predecessor resigned amid a sex scandal, will take the first step toward winning a new term in her own right in Tuesday’s Republican primary against three challengers.

In another closely watched race in Alabama, Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby is trying to survive the backlash from her pointed criticism of President Donald Trump during last year’s presidential race, facing four GOP challengers who have hit her hard for being insufficiently supportive of the president.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Mississippi, the marquee race in Tuesday’s primary is in the state’s 3rd U.S. House District, where six Republicans are vying for two runoff spots in a race likely to be decided in the GOP primary.

Six Democrats are also vying for their party’s nomination to take on Republican U.S. Senator Roger Wicker in November, a race in which Wicker will be heavily favored.

Polls in both states are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CDT.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Ivey, 73, became governor in April 2017 after her predecessor, Robert Bentley, resigned amid allegations that he used state resources to try to hide an extramarital affair with a female aide, a scandal complete with salacious audio recordings that roiled state politics for months.

After five months in office, Ivey, who won plaudits for her handling of the Bentley debacle and its aftermath, announced that she would seek a full term as governor. A Morning Consult poll earlier this year  put her approval rating at 67 percent, making her one of the most popular governors in the country.

However, she still drew primary challengers from Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, State Senator Bill Hightower from Mobile and Scott Dawson, an evangelist from Birmingham. A fourth candidate, Michael McAllister, died in April, too late for his name to be removed from Tuesday’s ballot.

The governor’s campaign was thrown a curve ball in May when Alabama’s only openly gay legislator, Democratic State. Rep. Patricia Todd, posted on social media that Ivey was a closeted lesbian.

The governor’s campaign called the assertion “a disgusting lie.” Todd later said she has no evidence to back up the claim.

Pre-primary polling showed Ivey with a wide lead over her opponents; she will need a majority to avoid a July 17 runoff.

Six Democrats are competing in the primary to face the eventual Republican winner in the fall, including Sue Bell Cobb, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court; four-term Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox; and former State Rep. James Fields from Hanceville.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama

In the 2nd District U.S. House race in southeast Alabama, Roby is facing four Republican challengers motivated by the congresswoman’s decision to distance herself from Trump during the 2016 election.

In October 2016, after the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced in which Trump bragged about sexually accosting women, Roby withdrew her endorsement and announced she would not vote for him because his “behavior makes him unacceptable as a candidate for president.”

In November, almost 30,000 people cast write-in votes against Roby. Although she won in the end, she wound up with just 49 percent of the vote in a strongly Republican district, virtually ensuring she would face a primary fight in 2018.

Among those running against Roby are Bobby Bright, a former Montgomery mayor whom Roby beat to win the seat in 2010 when Bright was a Democrat; Rich Hobson, the campaign manager for failed U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore; State Rep. Barry Moore from Enterprise; and Tommy Amason from Prattville, a military veteran making his first run for office.

Roby, who has toned down her criticisms of Trump since the election, opened up a huge fundraising advantage, taking in $1.4 million — more than twice as much as all of her GOP opponents combined, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports.

The Democratic race in the 2nd District is between Tabitha Isner from Montgomery, a pastor’s wife and business analyst for a software company, and Audri Scott Williams, a former college dean.

In Mississippi, six Republicans and two Democrats are running in the 3rd District, which stretches across the southern part of the state from Natchez to Meridian and also includes Jackson’s northern suburbs

The incumbent, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, is retiring after five terms.

Republicans in the race include Michael Guest, the chief prosecutor for the judicial district that includes Madison and Rankin counties; Whit Hughes, a hospital executive and aide to former Governor Haley Barbour; Perry Parker, a farmer and investment executive from Seminary, near Hattiesburg; State Senator Sally Doty from Brookhaven; Morgan Dunn, a healthcare consultant from Magee; and Katherine “Bitzi” Tate, a former high school teacher.

If no candidate captures a majority Tuesday, the top two finishers will meet in a June 26 runoff.

The Democratic race is between State Rep. Michael Ted Evans of Preston and Michael Aycox, a police officer from Newton. The district is heavily Republican, making it a long shot for Democrats to flip a Mississippi seat.

In the Senate race, six Democrats are running to take on Wicker, including State House Minority Leader David Baria from Bay St. Louis; State Rep. Omeria Scott from Laurel; and Howard Sherman, a venture capitalist from Meridian who is married to actress Sela Ward, a Meridian native.

The Magnolia State’s other Senate seat is also open, after the retirement of Thad Cochran earlier this year. It will be filled in an all-party special election in November that features Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed as a temporary replacement for Cochran; GOP State Senator Chris McDaniel, who ran unsuccessfully to unseat Cochran in 2014; and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Espy, who served as agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration.

Democrat Doug Jones wins Alabama U.S. Senate seat

Jones defeats Republican Roy Moore amid allegations of Moore’s sexual pursuit of teenage girls

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — Democrat Doug Jones has defeated Republican Roy Moore to win a U.S. Senate contest in Alabama, snatching away a seat in one of the country’s most Republican states and handing a rebuke to President Donald Trump, who went all in for Moore.

U.S. Senator-elect Doug Jones

Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham making his first bid for elective office, took 50 percent to 48 percent for Moore in the December 12 vote, with the remaining vote going to write-in candidates.

Despite the Yellowhammer State’s strongly conservative tilt, Moore could not survive allegations that he sexually pursued teenage girls decades ago when he was in his 30s, which became public a month before the special election to permanently fill the seat of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Moore’s defeat, in a state where a Democrat had not won a Senate race in 25 years, also leaves Senate Republicans with a razor-thin 51-49 majority and increases prospects for Democrats to win control of the chamber in 2018.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Birmingham, Jones said, “I think that I have been waiting all my life, and now I just don’t know what the hell I’m going to say.”

“We have been at a crossroads in the past, and, unfortunately, we have usually taken the wrong fork. Tonight, you have taken the right road,” he said.

But Moore, addressing supporters in Montgomery, refused to concede defeat, saying that the closeness of the result might raise the possibility of a recount.

“It’s not over,” he said. “We also know God is in control.”

However, Moore’s most prominent supporter, Trump, offered congratulations to Jones on Twitter shortly after television networks called the race for Jones.

“Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory,” Trump said. “The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time.”

Jones will face voters again in 2020 after winning the race to fill the rest of the term Sessions won in 2014, which he gave up in February to join Trump’s Cabinet as attorney general.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

In November, five women came forward to say that Moore, now 70, made advances toward them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. One of the women, Leigh Corfman, said Moore initiated sexual contact with her back in 1979, when she was just 14.

Suggestions of sexual impropriety posed a special problem for Moore because his legal and political careers have been built on unapologetic Christian conservatism, which is frequently on display in most of his speeches.

He was twice elected and twice removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after defying federal court orders on displaying the Ten Commandments and issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — stands that made him a controversial figure well before the allegations of sexual misbehavior surfaced.

Moore vehemently denied the allegations, but virtually all of the Senate GOP caucus called on him to exit the race, including Alabama’s other U.S. Senator, Republican Richard Shelby.

Trump initially kept some distance from Moore, sending out surrogates to say that if the charges were true, he should leave the race. However, Trump eventually endorsed Moore and made robocalls on his behalf, saying the seat was too important to hand over to a “liberal” like Jones.

Democrats, smelling blood after the allegations against Moore became public, began pouring resources into what had been considered a long-shot race. Toward the end of the campaign, Jones’s campaign was putting up seven TV commercials to every one from Moore.

The Senate seat opened in February after Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Former Governor Robert Bentley appointed Republican Luther Strange to  the seat, but he was unable to hold it in a September GOP primary where he lost to Moore.

McConnell: I believe Roy Moore’s accusers

Head of Senate GOP campaign arm says Moore should be expelled; fifth woman alleges sexual misconduct

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he believes the women who have come forward to accuse Alabama Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, while the head of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm says Moore should be expelled from the Senate if he wins a December special election.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

“I believe the women, yes, ” McConnell told reporters after attending a tax reform event November 12 in Louisville. “I think he should step aside.”

McConnell also said Republican leaders are looking into the feasibility of supporting a write-in candidate in the race, although he was non-committal on whether that candidate would be the man Moore defeated in the Republican primary, U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, took to Twitter to suggest that Republican senators might refuse to let Moore take his seat in the Senate even if he wins.

“I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office,” Gardner said. “If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.”

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore fired back on Twitter: “The person who should step aside is @SenateMajLdr Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced.”

GOP leaders are in a difficult spot. The deadline has passed for replacing Moore on the ballot, so, if he withdraws, the only option for Republicans to win would be a write-in campaign. However, if he refuses to go, a write-in campaign could split the Republican vote and clear the way for Democrat Doug Jones to win. And that would cut the GOP majority in the Senate to a single vote.

Strange, who has been filling the seat on a temporary basis since February, would be problematic as a write-in candidate because he lost to Moore in September after an acrimonious primary, leaving him an unlikely figure to unify Republicans in a battle against Jones.

Even as Republican leaders grappled over how to deal with Moore, a fifth woman came forward to allege that Moore tried to force himself on her when she was just 16 and he was a local prosecutor in Alabama. Beverly Young Nelson said she managed to fight off Moore’s advances after he offered her a ride home from a restaurant where she worked.

On November 9, The Washington Post published an allegation from another woman, Leigh Corfman, who said Moore initiated sexual contact with her back in 1979, when she was just 14 and he was 32. Three other women also told the Post that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers, although none of those women allege that any sexual contact beyond kissing took place.

Moore has strenuously denied the allegations, insisting that they are a politically motivated attack to keep him out of the Senate.

“We do not intend to let the Democrats, or establishment Republicans or anybody else behind this story stop this campaign.” Moore during an appearance at a Veteran’s Day event where he addressed the allegations. “We fully expect the people of Alabama to see through this charade.”

Suggestions of sexual impropriety pose a special problem for Moore, 70, because his legal and political careers have been built on unapologetic Christian conservatism, which is frequently on display in most of his speeches.

He was twice elected and removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court after defying federal court orders to stop displaying the Ten Commandments on public property and encouraging local officials not to license same-sex marriages after the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized them.

The allegations have further eroded Moore’s already shaky relationship with fellow Republicans in the Senate, all of whom backed Strange in the primary. Given the current climate of heightened sensitivity to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, Republicans have been quick to put daylight between themselves and Moore.

However, Moore — who twice put his job as chief justice on the line to defy federal courts — is unlikely to heed calls to step aside, especially coming from McConnell. Moore has said loudly and often that he would vote against McConnell as Republican leader if he gets to Washington.

The imbroglio surrounding Moore marks the second time in a year that a sex scandal has rocked politics in the Yellowhammer State.

In April, former Governor Robert Bentley resigned under threat of impeachment after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors stemming from his efforts to extricate himself from a scandal over his relationship with former aide.

Strange was appointed to the Senate seat in February by Bentley after Jeff Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after Bentley resigned, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election this year. Moore went on to defeat Strange in a September primary runoff.

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.

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.

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