Se­nate can­di­dates seek to hew closer to Trump

Pres­i­dent backs Strange, filler of Ses­sions’ seat

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

Pres­i­dent Trump waded into the Repub­li­can pri­mary in Alabama’s U.S. Se­nate race this week, putting his coali­tion on the line against a slew of high-pro­file con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors.

Mr. Trump took to Twit­ter late Tues­day to en­dorse Sen. Luther Strange, who was ap­pointed to the seat on an in­terim ba­sis af­ter Mr. Trump el­e­vated Jeff Ses­sions to lead the De­part­ment of Jus­tice.

But many con­ser­va­tives are back­ing Rep. Mo Brooks, a mem­ber of the House Free­dom Cau­cus and fa­vorite of talk-show hosts Sean Han­nity and Mark Levin and con­ser­va­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Madi­son Project.

The bat­tle is be­ing fought squarely on Mr. Trump’s ter­ri­tory, with both Mr. Brooks and Mr. Strange ar­gu­ing they’re the Trump-boost­ing, toughon-im­mi­gra­tion can­di­date Alabama wants in Washington.

Also in the crowded field is for­mer Alabama Chief Jus­tice Roy Moore, who be­came a na­tional fig­ure by de­fy­ing fed­eral courts on re­li­gious ex­pres­sion and gay mar­riage, and who re­cently landed an en­dorse­ment from ac­tion movie star Chuck Nor­ris.

The pri­mary is Tues­day, and un­less some­one tops 50 per­cent, the two can­di­dates with the high­est vote to­tals will ad­vance to a Septem­ber runoff.

A poll re­leased this week from JMC An­a­lyt­ics showed the leader of the pack is Mr. Moore, whose claim to fame is his re­fusal to re­move the Ten Com­mand­ments from the Alabama Supreme Court, which led to his even­tual re­moval from the high court. He was re-elected to the chief jus­tice post, only to be re­moved again for in­struct­ing state court clerks not to sign gay mar­riage li­censes.

Mr. Moore re­ceived the sup­port of 30 per­cent of the re­spon­dents, com­pared to 22 per­cent for Mr. Strange and 19 per­cent for Mr. Brooks.

The poll car­ried a 4-per­cent­age-point mar­gin of er­ror and was done be­fore Mr. Trump in­ter­vened Tues­day night.

“Sen­a­tor Luther Strange has done a great job rep­re­sent­ing the peo­ple of the Great State of Alabama,” the pres­i­dent said on Twit­ter. “He has my com­plete and to­tal en­dorse­ment!”

Mr. Brooks sug­gested Mr. Trump had been hood­winked into his en­dorse­ment.

“I re­spect Pres­i­dent Trump, but I am baf­fled and disappointed Mitch McCon­nell and the swamp some­how mis­led the pres­i­dent into en­dors­ing Luther Strange,” he said. “In any event, while Mitch McCon­nell and the swamp man­aged to mis­lead the pres­i­dent last night, I still sup­port the Amer­ica first agenda, and all the polls show we have the mo­men­tum.”

Mr. Moore also down­played the news, say­ing “peo­ple are not vot­ing for Pres­i­dent Trump.”

“They’re vot­ing for his agenda, which I firmly be­lieve in,” Mr. Moore said, ac­cord­ing to “They’re vot­ing to see the next sen­a­tor of the state of Alabama, and I don’t think Pres­i­dent Trump is run­ning for sen­a­tor of Alabama. So it will be on our cre­den­tials.”

The pres­i­dent is cer­tainly on the minds of the state’s Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers, said Brent Buchanan, a GOP strate­gist, who said the race has boiled down to a bat­tle over “who has been the Trump­i­est of us all.”

“It re­ally has been like a dat­ing con­test so far, and every­body is ready to go on a date with Don­ald Trump, and that is all they have talked about,” Mr. Buchanan said. “The op­por­tu­nity I see for Strange is that he can par­lay this into turn­ing out Trump lovers who had not pre­vi­ously thought about this race.”

Mr. Strange’s back­ers in­clude the Se­nate Lead­er­ship Fund (SLF), closely linked to Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell. The SLF has blasted Mr. Moore and Mr. Brooks, la­bel­ing the House law­maker a late­comer to the Trump train, say­ing the con­gress­man crit­i­cized then-can­di­date Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion po­si­tions.

Among other things, the SLF funded an ad last month that fea­tured footage of Mr. Brooks say­ing on MSNBC, “I don’t think you can trust Don­ald Trump with any­thing he says.”

Im­mi­gra­tion crack­down group Amer­i­cans for Le­gal Im­mi­gra­tion PAC has risen to Mr. Brooks’ de­fense, say­ing he “clearly has the strong­est record against il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.”

Both Mr. Moore and Mr. Brooks have run against Mr. McCon­nell, la­bel­ing him a mem­ber of the “es­tab­lish­ment” and part of the prob­lem in Washington.

The Se­nate Lead­er­ship Fund and other groups con­nected to Mr. McCon­nell have re­turned the fa­vor by putting mil­lions into build­ing up Mr. Strange and tear­ing down his top ri­vals. Mr. Buchanan said the ads have been un­fair but ef­fec­tive — putting Mr. Brooks in a tough spot.

“I think it re­ally comes down to the fact that the Se­nate Lead­er­ship Fund did a good job defin­ing him with rank-and-file vot­ers as an­tiTrump, and if he comes in and tries to change that nar­ra­tive, that ta­ble has been set,” he said.


Pres­i­dent Trump on Tues­day en­dorsed Sen. Luther Strange, Alabama Repub­li­can, in the state’s Se­nate pri­mary. Mr. Strange was ap­pointed to the seat when Jeff Ses­sions va­cated the job to be­come at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Mr. Trump.

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