Strange vs. Re­ally Strange

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

Newsweek - - CONTENTS - MATTHEW COOPER @mat­tiz­coop

his name may sound like that of

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

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

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 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 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,

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