Strange vs. Re­ally Strange

Why Democrats have a shot to win in 2018—even in blood-red Alabama

Newsweek International - - NEWSWEEK - MATTHEW COOPER

a comic book vil­lain, but Se­na­tor Luther Strange is a pretty nor­mal Repub­li­can—at least by Alabama stan­dards. Since for­mer Gov­er­nor Robert Bent­ley ap­pointed him to re­place Jeff Ses­sions in the Se­nate in Fe­bru­ary, Strange has voted along con­ser­va­tive lines, back­ing the re­peal of Oba­macare, the con­fir­ma­tion of Supreme Court Jus­tice Neil Gor­such and so on. So it’s no sur­prise that Strange, a for­mer en­ergy lob­by­ist and state at­tor­ney gen­eral, has earned the sup­port of GOP Se­nate leader Mitch Mccon­nell and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

But these days, noth­ing is pre­dictable with the GOP. Strange has en­coun­tered an un­ex­pect­edly stub­born op­po­nent as he tries to fin­ish his time in of­fice, which ex­pires on De­cem­ber 12.

His name is Roy Moore, an Alabama Supreme Court chief jus­tice who has twice had the gavel taken from him.

(It’s an elected of­fice in the Cot­ton State.) The first time, he wouldn’t get rid of a gi­ant statue of the Ten Com­mand­ments he put on the court­house lawn. The sec­ond time, he re­fused to com­ply with fed­eral law over same-sex mar­riage.

Moore jus­ti­fied both ac­tions on re­li­gious grounds, which would prob­a­bly dis­qual­ify an­other can­di­date, in an­other state, at an­other time from ever seek­ing of­fice. But this is the GOP in the age of Trump, so in­sur­rec­tions are cel­e­brated. And two-thirds of vot­ers in Alabama iden­tify as fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­tians, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey. Moore came in first when Repub­li­cans went to the polls in the ini­tial round of vot­ing in Au­gust. Strange fin­ished sec­ond, which sent main­stream Repub­li­cans like Mccon­nell into apoplexy.

Their fear: Moore is so fa­nat­i­cal that he might lose that GOP seat— even in blood-red Alabama—in the gen­eral elec­tion in De­cem­ber. Or worse, that he’ll win, and they’ll

have to deal with him. That’s why es­tab­lish­ment Repub­li­can money is pour­ing in to res­cue Strange.

Even Trump hur­ried down South to help the se­na­tor. In late Septem­ber, in a ram­bling 90-minute speech at a cam­paign rally in Huntsville, Trump en­dorsed the can­di­date (and ful­mi­nated against NFL play­ers for not stand­ing for the na­tional an­them). “Both good men,” the pres­i­dent said of the two Repub­li­can can­di­dates. “If [Moore] wins, I’m go­ing to be here cam­paign­ing like hell for him. But, I have to say this…. Luther will def­i­nitely win.” His words didn’t sound con­vinc­ing—and the pres­i­dent had to be per­suaded to make such a high-pro­file visit, fear­ing he’d do so and Strange would lose.

Alabama is Trump coun­try. It was the site of the real es­tate mogul’s first sta­dium rally dur­ing his pri­mary cam­paign, a mas­sive event in Mo­bile in 2015, where Trump Force One did a wing dip for 30,000 cheer­ing fans. Ses­sions first pub­licly co­zied up to the GOP long shot at that event, be­fore Trump went on to crush his Repub­li­can op­po­nents and then Hil­lary Clin­ton in the state.

Yet the GOP is now di­vided be­tween the right wing and the re­ally right wing. And Alabama is a prime ex­am­ple. While the Repub­li­can es­tab­lish­ment sup­ports Strange, con­ser­va­tive flamethrow­ers such as for­mer Alaska Gov­er­nor Sarah Palin and for­mer White House chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non (once again lead­ing Bre­it­bart News) are back­ing Moore. Among other things, these fire­brands want to push Trump to crack down on un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants even more, par­tic­u­larly those who came to the U.S. as mi­nors. Both Trump and Strange say they are open to a deal al­low­ing these im­mi­grants stay in the U.s.—and that’s cre­ated ten­sion within the party.

But there’s a re­bel­lious qual­ity to Moore’s race. He’s vowed to blow up Se­nate rules if he’s elected and con­tinue cru­sad­ing against Mccon­nell. He’d also likely try to kick all gays out of the mil­i­tary—and once called for oust­ing Min­nesota’s Keith El­li­son from Congress be­cause he’s Mus­lim.

GOP lead­ers are wor­ried that can­di­dates like Moore may cost the party its ma­jori­ties in Congress. They know the cost of ugly pri­mary fights and ec­cen­tric nom­i­nees. In 2010, they nom­i­nated Ne­vada’s Shar­ron An­gle, who blew her chance at win­ning with wild-eyed state­ments about Sharia (Is­lamic law) tak­ing over the U.S. Two years later,

Moore ranted about di­vi­sions in Amer­ica and weirdly cited schisms be­tween the “reds from yel­lows.”

the In­di­ana GOP chose Richard Mour­dock over the state’s long­time in­cum­bent, Richard Lu­gar. And he blun­dered badly, say­ing if a woman was raped and got preg­nant, “it’s some­thing God in­tended.” He couldn’t spin his way out of that, and a Demo­crat, Joe Don­nelly, won the seat for the first time in 46 years. If the Tea Party led to such bizarre and ig­no­min­ious de­feats, imag­ine what we’ll see in 2018 with Bre­it­bart’s Ban­non whip­ping the far right into a frenzy.

Moore has a real shot at win­ning the pri­mary. He got trounced in his 2006 and 2010 bids to be gov­er­nor, but those were dif­fer­ent times. Now, the more out­ra­geous, the more sub­ver­sive the can­di­date, the bet­ter—or so Repub­li­can vot­ers seems to think. Since Moore jumped into the U.S. Se­nate race in April, he’s been on a fast wa­ter­slide to Crazy Town. He claimed an en­dorse­ment from con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist Phyl­lis Sch­lafly— even though she’s dead. In Septem­ber, he ranted about di­vi­sions in Amer­ica and weirdly cited schisms be­tween the “reds from yel­lows.” (He meant Na­tive Amer­i­cans and Asians.) Vot­ers didn’t seem to mind. And while Strange still has Trump’s back­ing, Moore has deftly been able to claim the pres­i­dent is be­ing held hostage by the swamp mon­sters like Mccon­nell. As he put it, “The at­tempt by the silk-stockinged Wash­ing­ton elit­ists to con­trol the vote of the peo­ple of Alabama has failed.”

Democrats are sali­vat­ing at the prospect of fac­ing Moore. For years, they’ve strug­gled in the state. But the di­vi­sive Se­nate race has given them hope. Their nom­i­nee, a high-pro­file prose­cu­tor named Doug Jones, is polling close to the for­mer jus­tice—as well as Strange. So even if the weirder can­di­date wins, the Gop—and Trump—could still get buried in their own back­yard.

TRUMP COUN­TRY The pres­i­dent, who is pop­u­lar in Alabama, hur­ried down South to hold a rally for Strange. It was a savvy move in­tended to counter Moore’s far-right sup­port­ers.

HELLO, STRANGER On pa­per, Strange looks like the per­fect GOP Se­nate can­di­date in Alabama. But in the era of Trump, the more out­ra­geous, the more sub­ver­sive the can­di­date, the bet­ter—or so Repub­li­can vot­ers seems to think.

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