Alabama Senate primary: Trump's influence tested as Luther Strange, Roy Moore vie for GOP seat

The two Republican Alabama Senate candidates are less than one week away from a primary election – in what is one of the first tests of President Donald Trump’s influence.

Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to finish out Jeff Sessions’ term when he was tapped as the U.S. attorney general, faces former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in a runoff.

Despite having Trump’s support, being buoyed by millions of dollars in advertising by a super political action committee tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Moore’s past controversies, Strange was unable to avoid a runoff during a primary last month.

State law calls for a runoff if candidates are unable to get more than 50 percent of the vote.

Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, won the Democratic primary.

Moore and Strange will participate in an hour-long livestreamed debate Thursday ahead of the Sept. 26 runoff. The special general election slated for Dec. 12. Here’s a look at the candidates.

Roy Moore

Called the “Ayatollah of Alabama” by critics who believe he too closely marries his political and judicial responsibilities with religion, Judge Roy Moore emerged as one of two Republicans headed to a runoff next month – and he was at the head of the pack.

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks to supporters, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala. Moore, who took losing stands for the public display of the Ten Commandments and against gay marriage, forced a Senate primary runoff with Sen. Luther Strange, an appointed incumbent backed by both President Donald Trump and heavy investment from establishment Republican forces. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Former Alabama Chief Justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore speaks to supporters in Montgomery, Ala.  (Brynn Anderson)

Known as the “Ten Commandments Judge,” Moore has garnered the support of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and “Walker, Texas Ranger” star Chuck Norris. The populist Breitbart News website has also written favorably about Moore, seemingly breaking from Trump.

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Despite his popularity, Moore is mired in controversy. He was twice removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court. The first time, he was removed when he refused to move a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument from the statehouse; he was permanent suspended in 2016 after he instructed probate judges to deny marriage licenses to gay people.

Moore used those controversies to boost his support among conservative evangelicals while campaigning, and he told Republican voters that those cases were akin to battle scars for standing up for what he believes. On his campaign website, Moore said he was suspended for “upholding the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman.”

Moore was also called racially insensitive when he used dated terms to seemingly describe Asian people and Native Americans during a recent campaign speech.

 “Now we have blacks and white fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress? No, it’s going to be God,” he said.

He also suggested the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a punishment from God and suggested that God was upset with the U.S. because “we legitimize sodomy” and “legitimize abortion," CNN reported.

Luther Strange

Despite being backed by GOP senators and Trump, Luther Strange failed to avoid a runoff and came in second to Judge Roy Moore.

FILE - In this March 3, 2017 file photo, Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., who replaced Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate, does a TV interview on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Donald Trump is endorsing Alabama Sen. Luther Strange in a special primary election next week. The presidential endorsement comes as some polls have suggested that Strange is in a tight race with former state chief justice Roy Moore and Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

President Donald Trump endorsed Sen. Luther Strange in a special primary election next week.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Trump will be in Alabama Friday to campaign for Strange – sometimes called “Big Luther” because of his 6-foot-9-inch frame.

In a tweet, Trump said Strange has "gained mightily" since his endorsement.

Strange, who was tapped by Alabama’s governor to finish out Sessions’ term, was the state’s attorney general and had joined a lawsuit against the Obama administration that challenged the former president’s executive order on amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

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Aside from the president, Strange also racked up endorsements from the National Rifle Association of America, National Right to Life and the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Although a favorite of the establishment, Strange’s struggles raised concerns among GOP members of Congress, even if he does ultimately survive the runoff election next month.

"There are probably a number of incumbents on both sides of the aisle who should take notice of another demonstration that voters still want change," Greg Strimple, a Republican pollster for a political action committee aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, told the Associated Press.

"The takeaway is that Washington is very unpopular," Strimple said, and that overrides even Trump's endorsement, because he cannot simply "transfer his brand" to candidates, like the lobbyist-turned-politician Strange, who fail to establish their own outsider credentials.

Doug Jones

A former U.S. attorney during the Clinton administration, Jones beat out seven other Democrats to secure the party’s nomination.

FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2017, file photo, candidate Doug Jones chats with constituents before a Democratic Senate candidate forum at the Princess Theatre in Decatur, Ala.   Jones is facing Michael Hansen , who leads an environmental group, in the Democrat primary on Tuesday, Aug. 15.  .  (Jeronimo Nisa /The Decatur Daily via AP, File)

Senate candidate Doug Jones chats with constituents before a forum in Decatur, Ala.  (AP Photo/Jeronimo Nisa)

Jones has been openly critical of Trump – particularly when it comes to Trump’s wish to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement – and picked up key endorsements from liberal lawmakers.

Former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Jones in the primary and loaned his voice to robocalls made to voters.

“Doug Jones will make a great U.S. senator so please make sure you get out and vote on Tuesday – and I’m hoping you’ll vote for my friend, Doug Jones,” Biden said.

Jones was also endorsed by Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., Cedric Richmond, D-La., and Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

While a Republican candidate is widely expected to win the seat, Alabama Democrats are reportedly feeling optimistic about their candidate.

Jones is perhaps best known for successfully prosecuting two members of the Ku Klux Klan accused of bombing a Birmingham church in 1963 that killed four little girls.

His campaign website touts his progressive ideals and plans for health care reform and protecting Planned Parenthood.

“The shenanigans around the 2016 campaign must be pushed aside and full equality for women made the law and the norm in America,” Jones said on his website.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.