Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore soundly defeated Sen. Luther Strange in a GOP primary runoff that pitted President Donald Trump against some of his most loyal supporters, including former chief strategist Steve Bannon, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and a slew of conservative members of the House of Representatives.
Continue Reading Below
With 57 percent of the precincts reporting, Moore led Strange by 57 percent to 43 percent, a margin of more than 35,000 votes. State officials estimated a low turnout of between 12 and 15 percent of eligible voters.
Strange lost despite the endorsement of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom traveled to Alabama to make the case for the incumbent in the final week of the race.
In his concession statement, Strange thanked Trump and Pence for their support and vowed to "go back to work with President Trump and do all I can to advance his agenda over the next few weeks."
Moore is now the favorite in December's general election against Democrat Doug Jones, a lawyer and former U.S. attorney during President Bill Clinton's administration. The winner of that race will complete the Senate term started by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and be up for re-election in 2020.
At a rally in Huntsville Friday, Trump portrayed Strange as loyal to him and said he appreciated how Strange agreed to vote for ObamaCare replacement legislation this summer without asking any favors from him. However, Trump’s endorsement was overshadowed nationally by his attack on NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem prior to games.
Continue Reading Below
Trump also said at the Alabama rally that he would campaign for Moore in the general election if he secured the nomination, but he believed Moore would have a tougher time against Jones in the general election.
Trump posted a Tweet before voting began Tuesday morning, imploring Alabamians to "Finish the job [and] vote for 'Big Luther.'"
Pence also flew to Birmingham on Monday evening to campaign for Strange.
"Luther Strange is a real conservative. He's a leader and a real friend to President Trump. I got to tell you, Big Luther has been making a big difference in Washington," Pence said before exiting the stage to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama."
The Senate Leadership Fund, a group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., spent an estimated $9 million trying to secure the nomination for Strange. That support played into Moore's argument that the election was an opportunity to send a lesson to what he called the "elite Washington establishment."
"Mitch McConnell needs to be replaced and your vote tomorrow may determine that," Moore said Monday at a Fairhope rally attended by Bannon, Brexit leader Nigel Farage, and "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson.
Bannon told the crowd that Alabama can show the world "that this populist, nationalist, conservative movement is on the rise."
"A vote for Roy Moore is a vote for Donald J. Trump," Bannon said.
Wearing a white cowboy hat and leather vest at the rally Monday night, Moore repeated the conservative Christian themes he has used his entire public career. He also lashed out at attack ads run against him in the race, including one suggesting he was weak on gun rights. "I believe in the Second Amendment," Moore said, pulling a handgun from his pocket.
Moore, known in Alabama as the "Ten Commandments Judge," has a colorful political history that has both fueled and complicated his rise.
Moore first received national attention in the 1990s as a county judge when he hung a wooden Ten Commandments plaque on the wall of his courtroom. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against him.
Benefiting from his popularity after the episode, Moore then ran and won a race for chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court in 2000. But he was ousted after refusing to remove a 5,280-pound granite Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state judicial building.
Moore resurrected his political career in 2012, when he was elected chief justice again. But his second tenure was short-lived: in 2016, Moore was suspended as chief justice after he directed probate judges not to issue marriage certificates to gay couples.
Strange, the former attorney general in Alabama, was temporarily appointed to the seat in April by then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who has since resigned in disgrace. Opponents have used the appointment against Strange, accusing Bentley of naming him to the seat so he could install someone who might be more sympathetic to him in the state attorney general’s office.
On the outskirts of Montgomery, 76-year-old Air Force retiree John Lauer said Trump's endorsement swayed him to vote for Strange on Tuesday.
"I voted for Strange. I'm a Trump voter. Either one is going to basically do the Trump agenda, but since Trump came out for Luther, I voted for Luther," said Lauer said.
Merlene Bohannon, a widow with three grown children, said she had planned to vote for Strange until seeing Bannon stump for Moore on Fox News on Monday night.
"Steve Bannon and God spoke to me, and this morning when I went in I voted for Moore," said Bohannon, 74.
Fox News' Alex Pappas and the Associated Press contributed to this report.