MONTGOMERY, Ala.— Firebrand jurist Roy Moore won the Alabama Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, defeating an appointed incumbent backed by President Donald Trump and allies of Sen. Mitch McConnell.
In an upset likely to rock the GOP establishment, Moore clinched victory over Sen. Luther Strange to take the GOP nomination for the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore will face Democrat Doug Jones in a Dec. 12 special election.
Throughout the campaign, Moore argued the election was an opportunity to send a message to the “elite Washington establishment” that he said was trying to influence the race. The Senate Leadership Fund, a group with ties to McConnell, had spent an estimated $9 million trying to secure the nomination for Strange.
The president tweeted his congratulations minutes after Moore declared victory, mistakenly urging the GOP nominee to go on to win in November, rather than December.
“Congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican Primary win in Alabama,” Trump tweeted. “Luther Strange started way back & ran a good race. Roy, WIN in Nov!”
Minutes later, the president sent out a fresh tweet, urging Moore to “WIN in Dec!” and deleted the original tweet.
Moore was twice elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and twice removed from those duties. In 2003, he was removed from office for disobeying a federal judge’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse lobby. Last year, he was permanently suspended after a disciplinary panel ruled he had urged probate judges to defy federal court decisions on gay marriage and deny wedding licenses to same-sex couples.
Trump endorsed Strange in the race and tweeted support for him on multiple occasions. As polls showed Strange in danger of losing, Trump visited Alabama to campaign at a rally attended by more than 7,000 people.
Moore, propelled by evangelical voters, consolidated support from a number of anti-establishment forces, including the pro-Trump Great America Alliance and former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who spoke at a Monday rally. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in a rally for Moore last week, said the judge was a better match for Trump’s “movement.”
Trump 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 the Democrat in the race.
Moore led Strange by about 25,000 votes in the crowded August primary, which went to a runoff between the two because neither topped 50 percent in the voting.
Strange, the state’s former attorney general, was appointed to Sessions’ seat in February by then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned two months later as lawmakers opened impeachment hearings against him. Throughout the Senate race, Strange had been dogged by criticisms of accepting the appointment from a scandal-battered governor when his office was in charge of corruption investigations.
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.
Poll workers in the heavily Republican Birmingham suburbs of Helena and Pelham said voter turnout was steady, with short lines at two places when doors opened Tuesday.
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.
Bannon told the crowd that Alabama can show the world “that this populist, nationalist, conservative movement is on the rise.”