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Jeff Sessions wants his old job back as Alabama U.S. Senator

Sessions files to run in GOP primary to reclaim the seat he gave up to become Donald Trump’s attorney general

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — In 2017, Jeff Sessions gave up the U.S. Senate seat he had held for 20 years to become President Donald Trump’s first attorney general.

Now, after parting with the president on unhappy terms, Sessions wants that job back — but he’ll have to fight through Trump and a field of Alabama Republicans to get it.

Sessions, 72, who represented Alabama in the Senate from 1997 until 2017, announced November 7 that he will file the paperwork to run for his old seat, which is currently held by Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

Jeff Sessions announces Senate run on Fox News

“It’s not ‘my seat’ in the Senate, but I believe I have something to give,” Sessions said during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show where he announced his Senate run. “I have some convictions that I think need to be pushed.”

“We need to get some of the Republicans moving. They haven’t been pushing hard enough to advance the Trump agenda,” he said.

Sessions also released a campaign ad which made it clear that he will try to run for the Senate as a pro-Trump candidate, despite his rocky tenure and messy split from the administration.

Watch Jeff Session’s campaign ad at the end of this story.

“When I left President Trump’s Cabinet, did I write a tell-all book? No. Did I go on CNN and attack the president? Nope. Have I said a cross word about our president? Not one time,” Sessions said. “I’ll tell you why. First, that would be dishonorable. I was there to serve his agenda, not mine. Second, the president is doing a great job for America and Alabama, and he has my strong support.”

With Sessions in the race, the looming question is how loudly and often Trump might weigh in against a man he repeatedly dismissed as “weak” and disappointing before eventually firing him.

In the wake of Sessions’s interview with Carlson, Trump told reporters Friday that he has not decided whether to get involved in the race and that Sessions “said very nice things about me.” While not endorsing Sessions, he did not unload on him, either.

On Saturday, the president is visiting Tuscaloosa for the Alabama-LSU football game, putting the state’s Senate race top of mind, particularly for Sessions’s new primary rivals who may be vying for demonstrations of Trump’s favor.

Sessions’s last-minute decision to run — on the final day to file — shakes up a Republican primary race that had already attracted eight candidates, including U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne from Mobile, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Secretary of State John Merrill, and Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court justice who lost the seat to Jones in 2017 amid allegations of sexual conduct with underage girls.

Perhaps most affected is Byrne, who gave up his House seat to run for the Senate and could now end up out of office if he can’t beat Sessions, a proven vote-getter who has won five statewide races.

Byrne made it clear that Sessions’s fractured relationship with Trump will be part of the upcoming race.

“Alabama deserves a Senator who will stand with the President and won’t run away and hide from the fight,” Byrne said on Twitter.

Tuberville made the same point, calling Sessions “a career politician” who “failed the President at his point of greatest need.”

“[President] Trump said it best when he called Jeff Sessions ‘a disaster’ as AG and an ’embarrassment to [Alabama],” Tuberville said on Twitter.

Trump forced Sessions out as attorney general in 2018 after criticizing him for months for recusing himself from overseeing the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.  The president called Sessions “weak” and said he regretted elevating him to the post.

Sessions’s candidacy did draw a quick endorsement from Alabama’s senior U.S. Senator, Republican Richard Shelby, who said Sessions would be “formidable candidate.”

“Jeff Sessions is a friend. I worked with him every day up here for 20 years,” Shelby said “He’s a man of integrity. Of course, he’ll have to run his own race, and that’s up to the people of Alabama.”

Sessions’s return is the latest twist in a topsy turvy political saga set off by his resignation to join Trump’s Cabinet.

Then-Governor Robert Bentley appointed Republican Luther Strange to the vacant seat. But when Bentley resigned amid a sex scandal, his successor, Governor Kay Ivey, ordered a special election to fill the vacancy, and Moore defeated Strange for the Republican nomination, despite Trump’s vocal support of Strange.

After Moore’s campaign imploded in scandal, Jones won a narrow victory, become the first Democrat to win a Senate race in the Yellowhammer State in 25 years.

Trump weighed in on the race twice, first to try to help Strange beat Moore and then to try to help Moore beat Jones, neither of which worked.

If Jones loses, the new senator would be the fourth person in four years to hold the seat, in a state that previously had not had a Senate vacancy in 20 years.

Jones is considered to be the most endangered 2020 Senate Democrat, running in a state Trump carried by 28 points, but is likely to benefit from turmoil in the Republican primary.

Watch Jeff Session’s new campaign ad:

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GOP’s Alabama headache returns: Roy Moore running for U.S. Senate

Former chief justice ignores Donald Trump’s plea not to seek a rematch of 2017 loss

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will try again in 2020 to get elected to the U.S. Senate, three years after his campaign for the same office imploded amid sexual misconduct allegations — and despite a Twitter plea from President Donald Trump to stay out of the race.

“Can I win? Yes, I can win. Not only can I, they know I can. That’s why there’s such opposition,” Moore said at his June 20 announcement, referring to Republican leaders who will now face the headache of dealing with Moore in the GOP primary as they try to reclaim the seat from Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones.

Roy Moore announces Senate run in Montgomery (WKRG via YouTube)

“Why does the mere mention of my name cause people just to get up in arms in Washington, D.C.?” Moore said. “Is it because I believe in God and marriage and in morality in our country, that I believe in the right of a baby in the womb to have a life? Are these things embarrassing to you?”

Moore’s candidacy is being opposed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of GOP senators, as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama’s Republican U.S. Senator, Richard Shelby.

But it is the opposition of Trump — hugely popular in the Yellowhammer State — that may be the most formidable Republican obstacle in Moore’s path.

In a May 29 tweet, as speculation swirled that Moore might run, Trump said, “If Alabama does not elect a Republican to the Senate in 2020, many of the incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost, including our Pro-Life victories. Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating.”

Asked about the president’s opposition during his campaign announcement, Moore reiterated his support for Trump’s agenda and said he believed the president was being pressured to come out against him.

“I think President Trump has every right to voice his opinion. I think he’s being pushed by the NRSC,” Moore said.

Moore, 72, once again denied allegations made by five women that he pursued them sexually when they were teenagers in the 1970s — allegations that proved devastating to his 2017 campaign against Jones.

“I’ve taken a lie-detector test. I’ve take a polygraph test. I’ve done everything I could do,” he said.

Moore also said Jones’s win in 2017 — the first by a Democrat in an Alabama Senate race in 25 years — was “fraudulent” because he was the victim of a “false flag operation using Russian tactics.”

In late 2018, several news organizations reported that a group financed by a Democratic operative used Twitter and Facebook to spread disinformation against Moore, who lost to Jones by just 1 percent of the vote.

Jones, who has said he was not aware of what the group was doing, repudiated what he termed “deceptive tactics” and called for a federal investigation.

In his 2020 announcement, Moore said he suspected “Republican collusion” in the Democratic disinformation campaign, although he didn’t offer specifics.

Moore will be running in the Republican primary against a field that already includes U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Mobile, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, Secretary of State John Merrill from Tuscaloosa, and State Rep. Arnold Mooney from suburban Birmingham.

The two top vote getters in the March 2020 primary will advance to a runoff.

The challenge for the NRSC and Senate Republican leaders will be finding a way to work against Moore while remaining neutral among the other candidates. In 2017, their open support of Luther Strange backfired when Moore turned his ties with the Washington establishment into a potent campaign issue.

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 Alabama’s 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 telling local officials that they didn’t have to comply with 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 vacancy created when Jeff Sessions resigned to become Trump’s attorney general.

In 2017, Moore was able to use his base of support from his tenure as chief justice to get into the runoff, where he defeated Strange, who had been appointed to the seat temporarily by disgraced former Governor Robert Bentley.

Trump had backed Strange in the runoff but quickly got on board with Moore once he won. But after the sexual misconduct allegations surfaced, McConnell, Shelby and other Republican Senate leaders abandoned their wounded nominee, even announcing that they would expel him from the Senate if he won.

Jones, who now faces the formidable challenge of trying to hang on to his Senate seat in deep red Alabama, is considered to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the Senate in 2020.

Jones greeted Moore’s announcement with a tweet: “So it looks like my opponent will either be extremist Roy Moore or an extremist handpicked by Mitch McConnell to be part of his legislative graveyard team. Let’s get to work so we can get things done!”

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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.

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