Moore, Strange con­test may split GOP

Top Repub­li­cans back both can­di­dates

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY SETH MCLAUGHLIN

Backed by evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers and rid­ing a wave of anti-Wash­ing­ton sen­ti­ment, Roy Moore is surg­ing in the Repub­li­can pri­mary runoff in Alabama’s spe­cial U.S. Se­nate elec­tion, threat­en­ing to up­end the GOP es­tab­lish­ment.

Mr. Moore, the for­mer chief jus­tice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, holds a lead over Sen. Luther Strange in the lat­est polling, and won the back­ing this week of a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee that boosted Pres­i­dent Trump in last year’s cam­paign.

But the en­dorse­ment by Great Amer­i­can PAC is all the more stun­ning be­cause Mr. Trump has en­dorsed Mr. Strange in the race — adding an­other layer of in­trigue to a GOP con­test that has been all about who is go­ing to be most loyal to the com­man­der-in-chief.

Things got messier Thurs­day af­ter the Strange cam­paign re­leased a poll, con­ducted by the su­per PAC tied to Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, show­ing Mr. Moore lead­ing by a sin­gle per­cent­age point — a find­ing that ran against the lat­est Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age of sur­veys, which has Mr. Moore up by 11 points.

GOP vot­ers go to the polls Sept. 26, and the win­ner will face Demo­crat Doug Jones, a for­mer U.S. at­tor­ney, in the gen­eral elec­tion in De­cem­ber. The Repub­li­can nom­i­nee likely will be fa­vored to win in con­ser­va­tive Alabama.

“Judge Roy Moore has been stand­ing up for great Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples for years — he’s com­pletely un­afraid of the es­tab­lish­ment ‘swamp crea­tures’ lurk­ing in Wash­ing­ton,” said Ed Rollins, chair­man of the Great Amer­i­can PAC. “He’s the leader we need in the Se­nate work­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump to en­act the Amer­ica First agenda.”

The White House this week, though, said Mr. Trump still stands be­hind Mr. Strange, who has held the seat since he was ap­pointed in Fe­bru­ary to take the place of for­mer Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, who left the cham­ber to be­come at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Mr. Trump re­mains the over­rid­ing is­sue, with both can­di­dates rush­ing to em­brace him — even if they don’t al­ways agree with what he’s do­ing.

Last week, the pres­i­dent blind­sided GOP lead­ers on Capi­tol Hill by strik­ing a deal to in­crease the gov­ern­ment’s debt, keep the gov­ern­ment open into De­cem­ber and speed emer­gency re­lief to vic­tims of Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma.

Mr. Strange backed the deal, while Mr. Moore said he would have op­posed it. But Mr. Moore blamed Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell for the deal, not Mr. Trump, de­spite the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can hav­ing been cut out of the deal-mak­ing.

The Se­nate Lead­er­ship Fund, the po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee aligned with Mr. McCon­nell, has fun­neled mil­lions of dol­lars into the pri­mary, help­ing to dent an­other GOP can­di­date who came in third in last month’s pri­mary.

Mr. Moore came out on top in the pri­mary, but fell short of win­ning 50 per­cent of the vote, set­ting up the runoff with Mr. Strange, who came in sec­ond.

Since then, the pro-McCon­nell forces have turned their fire against Mr. Moore, who has vowed to sup­port Mr. Trump’s “Amer­ica First Agenda.”

Mr. Trump hasn’t an­nounced any plans to as­sist Mr. Strange.

But his for­mer top strate­gist, Bre­it­bart chief Stephen K. Ban­non, is back­ing Mr. Moore.

Mr. Moore also has re­cently racked up en­dorse­ments from a num­ber of con­ser­va­tive stal­warts on Capi­tol Hill — in­clud­ing the chair­man of the House Free­dom Cau­cus, Rep. Mark Mead­ows of North Carolina, and a co-founder of the group, Rep. Jim Jor­dan of Ohio.

Still, it’s Mr. Strange who’s seen as the es­tab­lish­ment’s man in the race, backed by Mr. McCon­nell and Mr. Trump.

John Cou­vil­lon of JMC An­a­lyt­ics and polling said Mr. Moore has deep sup­port among evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, as well as from vot­ers that are ei­ther search­ing for a can­di­date fol­low­ing the pri­mary and or strug­gling to stom­ach Mr. McCon­nell’s in­flu­ence on the race.

“You have to make the ar­gu­ment that the out­side sup­port for Sen. Strange is also driv­ing Moore’s elec­toral surge,” Mr. Cou­vil­lon said. “Alabama is a state where hav­ing that evan­gel­i­cal sup­port is pretty cru­cial to have if you want to win. This is not like run­ning in Ore­gon or Cal­i­for­nia.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

For­mer Alabama Chief Jus­tice and U.S. Se­nate can­di­date Roy Moore is rid­ing a wave of an­tiWash­ing­ton sen­ti­ment. He’s hop­ing to win the GOP pri­mary against Sen. Luther Strange.

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