Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

Democrats may have a real shot to pull off a shocking upset in Alabama’s Senate race, according to the first public poll released in the general election.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) leads former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D) by 50 percent to 45 percent in a poll released Friday by campaign handicapper Decision Desk HQ, a fairly tight race.

Individual poll results should always be taken with a grain of salt, and this poll conducted by Opinion Savvy Research was only in the field for two days, shorter than the three-day stretch many reputable pollsters insist on. The only other recent public surveys of the race, from Emerson, found Moore up by a wide margin in one and Jones within four points in another, so more polling will be helpful to get a clearer picture of whether or not the race is truly competitive.

But if the results are even close to accurate, that should be a siren for Democrats that they should step up for Jones against the divisive Moore — a prospect they’re already seriously considering.

The survey seems close to what’s expected in an Alabama race — President Trump has a 55 percent approval rating in the poll, with 43 percent disapproving, almost identical to the numbers Gallup has found, and the sample was 24 percent African American, roughly in line with normal elections in the state. It’s also notable that Moore is so controversial that he’s running behind Trump in the deep-red state.

More pollsters are undoubtedly in the field to see whether Moore’s nomination might have put deep-red Alabama in play for December, and a clearer picture of the race will likely emerge in the next week or so of whether Democrats will seriously contest the race. But this survey should give them some cautious optimism that the reason Moore won just 51 percent of the statewide vote in 2012 is his own inherent weaknesses, and that they might be able to capitalize on internal GOP divisions and have a outside shot at an upset that would rock the political world.

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National Democrats are seriously weighing whether to go big to try to keep controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) out of the Senate.

Following Moore’s solid primary victory over appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), Democrats are doing the research to see if there’s a real path for former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D) over his divisive foe. And while they’re not ready to commit major resources to a state as crimson red as Alabama at this point, Senate Democrats are already making initial moves to support Jones with individual donations while voicing cautious optimism about having a shot at their first Senate victory in the state in nearly three decades.

“Alabama’s obviously tough territory but this is a special situation,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told TPM on Thursday. “We believe Alabamans will want someone who they will be proud of, someone with character and integrity, and that’s Doug Jones. That is not Roy Moore.”

Democrats are clear-eyed that Moore remains the heavy favorite, and are wary about raising expectations. But they think there may be a path for Jones, who’s best known in the state for successfully prosecuting the Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a black Birmingham church in 1963 and killed four little girls, against Moore, whose decades-long religious crusade against gay rights and secularism has alienated many business-oriented Republicans in the state. While no Democrat has won a statewide race in Alabama for nearly a decade, they point out that Moore won just 51 percent of the vote in his 2012 state Supreme Court win.

There’s been almost no public polling of the race, and a smattering of public and private surveys have shown a conflicting picture of the race. Some have had Moore up big, others show a tighter contest.

“A bunch of things need to happen to get us into a place where we can be competitive  — and they’re all happening,” argued Jones adviser Joe Trippi, a veteran of a number of presidential campaigns including Howard Dean’s, which emphasized winning in deep-red territory long ignored by Democrats.

Jones may need as much structural as financial support. He announced he’d surpassed $1 million total raised on Wednesday and predicted he’ll eventually out-raise Moore, and his campaign says grassroots donations have jumped in recent days, but that’s likely about a fifth as much as he’ll need for his race. He also needs  well-trained staff ready to help build a field operation from scratch in a state where Democrats have almost no infrastructure, a costly and more time-consuming process that takes early investment and needs to happen now.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is already providing logistical and organizational support to Jones, and is in regular contact with his campaign. The big questions the DSCC and other national Democratic groups are looking to answer before investing significant resources are whether enough Republicans might cross over to back Jones in a state President Trump won by a 28-point margin last fall and where racially polarized voting makes it extra tough for a Democrat to get much higher than 40 percent in statewide races.

That’s a daunting task, and Democrats are wary about overselling their chances, still stinging from a special election House defeat in Georgia and worried about wasting valuable resources ahead of a year where they’re defending 10 seats in states Trump won.

That tension was displayed when former DSCC Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), one of the senators facing a tough reelection, told TPM “you’ve got to play in the race” — but joked that it better not come at his own expense.

“If it’s going to take away from my race, absolutely not, no!” he said with a laugh.

“They’ve got to do the assessment on Alabama and if it looks like it’s possible to win, make the necessary investments to win,” he said, turning serious.

Those who know Jones best in Washington are pushing for the party to help him as much as possible.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) first met Jones back in 2002 — one of his top staffers who’d worked for Jones in Alabama introduced them early in his political career — and described him as “the greatest.” He thinks having Jones in the race — and Moore as the GOP nominee — has given the party a real chance.

“We went from probably a five percent chance of winning that race if Luther had been renominated to multiples of that. I’m not telling you it’s 50-50, it is Alabama, but Doug is very well-known and well-liked,” he told TPM. “We have a person who’s a great American hero in this race. Let’s support him.”

Kaine talked up Jones during a Democratic caucus luncheon earlier this week, and said he’s given the legal maximum donation to the candidate.

Other big-name Democrats are coming in to help as well. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has a decades-old friendship with Jones, is headed to Alabama next Tuesday for a fundraiser and rally.

The Congressional Black Caucus is also stepping up to help an ally. The group recently hosted Jones at its annual CBC foundation luncheon, and many members are agitating the national party to step up its efforts.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights legend who grew up in Alabama, endorsed Jones early on as well and plans to head back to the state to help him out between now and the December runoff.

“The party should go all-out in supporting him. He’s a good man, he’s a great candidate. I grew up in Alabama and I’ve been knowing him for a long time, since he was U.S. attorney, and all that he did to try to make things better and seek justice for the people who’ve been wronged,” Lewis told TPM. “It’s worthy of spending time, effort and money.”

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Five years ago, when a Republican Senate nominee said things about rape and pregnancy that were beyond the pale, party leaders from the presidential nominee on down threw him under the bus. Now they’re handing an even more marginal figure the keys.

Then-Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) Senate campaign imploded when he declared that women couldn’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” and GOP leaders including then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and presidential nominee Mitt Romney demanded that he drop out of the race and apologize for his remarks. But former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s (R) Tuesday primary win elicited a very different result from many of the same people in spite of his long history of homophobic, Islamophobic and racially charged remarks: A full-out embrace.

“I called him this morning and told him I’m certainly supporting him and want to help him,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters Wednesday, the latest member of GOP leadership to fall in line and welcome Moore into the fold.

When asked by TPM how this was different than Akin’s campaign five years ago, Cornyn conceded Moore’s win was “similar in many ways.”

But Cornyn’s reaction hasn’t been the same — and he’s not the only one. The Texan chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee when Akin made his comments, and responded by demanding the Missouri Republican drop out and pulling $5 million in funds that had been earmarked for his race (though the NRSC ended up spending a bit in the race’s closing days to help him out).

It’s not like Cornyn — or any of the rest of the GOP establishment — are fans of Moore. But things have changed dramatically in how scandal politics play, and how much GOP leaders have become willing to stomach candidates who would have been spit up in earlier years.

Moore is best known for twice being forced from the Alabama Supreme Court because he defied the rule of law with his religious conservative stances. The first time, he was kicked off for rejecting a higher court’s order to remove a Ten Commandments statue he’d erected in front of his courthouse. More recently, he’d ordered state officials to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage.

Cornyn warned reporters just days ago that Moore was too fringe — “Getting thrown off the Supreme Court of your state twice I don’t think is a credential that commends you for membership in the United States Senate,” he’d said.

But now that Moore is the nominee, Cornyn and others are pulling a swift about-face.

McConnell moved quickly to bury the hatchet after his allies spent close to $10 million to boost appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who Moore crushed on Tuesday.

“I would like to congratulate Roy Moore on his victory in Alabama tonight,” McConnell said in a Tuesday statement. “He ran a spirited campaign centered around a dissatisfaction with the progress made in Washington. I share that frustration and believe that enacting the agenda the American people voted for last November requires us all to work together.”

President Trump, no stranger himself to controversial remarks, tweeted out a strong endorsement and proceeded to delete earlier tweets backing Strange.

Those bearhugs come in spite of Moore’s decades-long bigotry and radicalism.

He has suggested the 9/11 attacks happened because America turned its back on God, called Islam a “false religion,” claimed parts of the Midwest were already living under Islamic Sharia lawwarned that “immorality, abortion, sodomy, sexual perversion sweep our land,” and continued to claim that President Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. — and that’s just in the course of this current campaign.

In past years, Moore has argued Muslims should be barred from serving in Congress and that “homosexual conduct should be illegal.”

Just years ago, that would have been more than enough for the party to abandon him. But Trump’s election proved things have changed, Moore’s primary win cements that reality, and Republicans are reluctantly changing with them.

Brian Walsh was a top NRSC staffer when the group cut Akin loose, and said Trump’s victory had torched the old rulebook.

“The world changed a bit, for better or worse, when Trump won the White House despite what he’s said in the past. … When you consider what the person in the White House said on Access Hollywood, where else do you go from there?” he said. “If Republicans decided to say they wouldn’t support the candidate voters chose in Alabama, the grassroots backlash would be swift and severe.”

Walsh pointed to how quickly the scandal over now-Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) body-slamming reporter Ben Jacobs blew over, citing it as evidence that scandals that would have rocked the political world are barely a blip in the Trump era.

On the other hand, some religious conservatives say the GOP treated Akin unfairly after he apologized for his remarks — and should embrace the man Alabama Republicans picked as their nominee, especially since they’re likely going to have to work with him in a few months’ time. Moore begins the race as the heavy favorite in the deep red state, though Democrats hope they can use his controversies against him.

Ed Martin, a top social conservative who heads the Eagle Forum and backed Moore in the primary, was the GOP nominee for Missouri’s attorney general in 2012. He said the party turning its back on Akin ended up costing him and other Republicans in the state.

“He’s likely the next senator, so it’s partly a desire to work with the guy who’s going to be in politics,” he said of Moore. “When Akin made his mistake, and it was a terrible mistake, the party bailed on him in a way that wasn’t wise. Maybe they’ve learned.”

Tim Miller was at the Republican National Committee when then-Chairman Reince Priebus (who later became Trump’s chief of staff) decided to cut Akin loose. He said there never was any internal discussion of whether to stand by the Missourian, just how far to go in rejecting him, and that it was obviously the right thing to do, both politically and morally. Now, Republicans are too terrified of crossing their base.

“Obviously there was extreme concern about Akin both on the merits of what he said and the impact to the party, and those concerns were right, they bore out in the election,” he said, blaming Akin for hurting Romney and other Republicans. “The drastic difference between that and the response to Roy Moore is really telling. There hasn’t been anyone I’ve heard even suggest that Roy Moore wouldn’t be worthy of the support of the party, and there’s an element of this that’s due to PTSD from Trump. …  It’s unfortunate because the reality is Moore is far more extreme than Akin.”

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Controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has crushed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) and the entire Republican establishment, a victory that could have major reverberations in Washington and in the 2018 midterms.

The Associated Press has called the primary runoff for Moore, an iconoclastic social conservative, who led Strange by 57 percent to 43 percent with 45 percent of precincts counted.

His victory is a blow to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whose allies spent close to $10 million trying to boost Strange and stop Moore, and shows the limitations of an endorsement from President Trump, who agreed to back Strange and stumped for him in the race’s closing days.

Moore is a hardline religious conservative who was twice kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to obey the rule of law and disregarding higher court rulings, first for erecting then refusing to remove a monument of the ten commandments a decade ago then for rejecting the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage.

He’s said “homosexual conduct should be illegal,” suggested the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks happened because America has turned away from God, and claimed that parts of the American Midwest were living under Muslim Sharia law.

But in spite of those controversial views (and with many base voters, because of them) Moore cruised to first place in the first round of voting and easily bested Strange in the runoff.

That was as much due to Strange’s own problems as Moore’s strengths. McConnell’s support is a two-edged sword given his unpopularity with large segments of the Republican base. A bigger problem was Strange’s appointment by then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R), who was forced to resign under cloud of a sex scandal. Strange, as attorney general, had been in charge of investigating him, and many voters saw the appointment as fishy.

Even Trump couldn’t save him from those issues, showing the limits of his pull with GOP base voters, especially when he gets crossways with them.

Moore’s primary win pours gasoline on the anti-establishment fire burning through the GOP base. Conservative voters are irate that Republicans haven’t been able to get more done in Washington. Serious Trump-fueled primary challengers are already threatening Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dean Heller (R-NV) from the right, Sen. Bob Corker’s (R-TN) Tuesday decision to retire opens the door for a potentially bloody open-seat primary, and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) may get a primary challenge as well.

“We’re already witnessing some of that every day,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) warned reporters Tuesday afternoon about the base fervor against McConnell and the status quo.

Top establishment Republicans were looking to spin a possible Strange loss away even before polls had closed, blaming circumstances unique to the state.

“Races, particularly special elections are hard to read into,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) told TPM Tuesday afternoon, even as he insisted that Strange would win. “This is particularly unique due to the governor of Alabama’s activities.”

Strange made a point to thank Trump, who had to be convinced to come in to back him at the last minute, but not McConnell, whose allies spent huge to help him, in his statement admitting defeat.

“I am especially grateful for the support of President Trump and Vice President Pence, as well as the strong example set by my friends Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. I congratulate Roy Moore on the result this evening,” he said in a statement.

While Trump eventually came in to back Strange, many of his allies threw their support to Moore, a rabble-rousing outsider who has a lot more in common temperamentally with the president than his endorsed candidate. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon used his website Breitbart to rally hard for Moore, and Trump backers from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to Fox News host Sean Hannity supported him as well.

Trump congratulated Moore on the results — though he initially got the timing of the general election wrong before sending a corrected tweet saying it was in December, not November.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-affiliated group that spent close to $10 million on the race, put out a statement conceding defeat even before the AP called the race.

“We are proud to have fought alongside President Trump and the NRA in support of a dedicated conservative who has loyally supported this President and his agenda,” SLF President Steven Law said in a statement sent shortly after 9 p.m. EST. “While we were honored to have fought hard for Big Luther, Judge Roy Moore won this nomination fair and square and he has our support, as it is vital that we keep this seat in Republican hands.”

That’s a strong likelihood — but no guarantee. Democrats are excited about their nominee, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, and believe that Moore’s divisive views have a small chance of giving them a shot in the race.

“Voters can’t look past Roy Moore’s fringe beliefs, habit of putting himself first and his dishonesty. Even Republicans have said Moore is unfit to serve and spent millions to keep him out of office. Doug Jones is a man of character and integrity, who is unafraid to stand up for what’s right and has a proven record of independence that will serve Alabama families in the U.S. Senate,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) said in a statement.

Trump carried the state by a lopsided 62 percent to 34 percent, however, and while Republicans quietly grumble they may have to spend some money for Moore they’re not yet that worried that he could blow the race.

And if Moore does make it to Washington, he’s guaranteed to be a thorn in the side of McConnell and GOP leadership — as he made clear in a primary victory speech that sounded much more like a sermon than a stump speech.

“We have to return the knowledge of God and the Constitution of the United States to Congress,” he declared.

This story was last updated at 10:15 p.m. EST.

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) won’t run for another term in office, he announced Tuesday, creating a vacuum at the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a vacancy for the Senate that’s likely to be hard-fought in the primary and potentially the general election.

“After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018,” Corker said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

The decision means one of the Senate’s most interesting members won’t be around Washington much longer. Corker, a two-term senator, has had President Trump’s ear at times (he’d been on Trump’s short list for Secretary of State) and had shown a willingness to harshly criticize the president when he disagreed with him.

Corker led the charge in pushing through new sanctions against Russia this past summer, which Trump had reluctantly signed after huge bipartisan support in Congress.

And he was particularly critical after Trump’s post-Charlottesville comments blaming “both sides.”

The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful,” Corker declared at the time.

Trump fired back with a tweet saying Corker had repeatedly asked him whether or not to run again — and insinuating he might face a primary fight.

Corker drew bipartisan praise upon his announcement.

“Even when he’s been investigating smugglers’ tunnels near the Gaza strip, talking to foreign leaders, or giving advice to President Trump, Bob has never let his feet leave the ground in Tennessee. He says what he thinks, does what he believes is best for Tennesseans, and has helped lead his colleagues on complicated issues involving the federal debt and national security,”Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said in a statement. “His absence will leave a big hole in the United States Senate, but I know he’s carefully weighed his decision, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he tackles next.”

His Senate Democratic colleagues were just as kind.

“No matter the challenge, you can always count on Senator Corker to bring a reasoned, thoughtful approach, and to make decisions based not on partisanship but on what he believes is in the best interests of the American people. I am sorry to hear of his decision not to run for another term in the Senate,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said in a statement. “I also hope this is a wake-up call to all of us in the Senate that we need to recommit ourselves to creating an environment where reasonable, thoughtful people of both parties can come together to solve problems.”

Corker’s retirement is likely to trigger a knock-down, drag-out GOP primary to replace him — and potentially an opening for Democrats in the heavily Republican state if the wrong candidate emerges for the GOP.

Corker was already facing a potential challenge from the populist right from former State Rep. Joe Carr (R), an anti-immigration hardliner who lost a 2014 primary challenge to Alexander.

Other potential candidates include Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), a Trump ally who has $3 million in the bank, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), and Tennessee State Sen. Mark Green (R), who Trump had nominated for Army secretary but was forced to withdraw due to controversial remarks he’d made about LGBT people and Muslims.

One intriguing possibility: Former University of Tennessee (and Indianapolis Colts) football star Peyton Manning, who is rumored to be interested in the race. Manning, a Republican, played golf with Trump earlier this year.

The seat is highly likely to remain in GOP hands, barring disaster — Corker narrowly won his seat in a terrible year for the GOP, 2006, and the state has moved hard right in recent years. Trump carried it by 61 percent to 35 percent last fall. But many of the state’s Republicans have a moderate streak, and the wrong GOP nominee could make things interesting and give Democrats hope that Tennessee could be the third seat they need in their pipe-dreams of winning back Senate control, though that would mean holding all 10 Democratic seats in states Trump won last year and winning both Arizona and Nevada.

Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler (D) was already in the race against Corker, and Democratic strategists think he’s a solid potential nominee. Moderate Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) is another name who could be an intriguing statewide candidate, as is former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D).

Democrats were happy to highlight Corker’s retirement — though they stopped short of promising to fight for the race.

“Senator Corker’s decision is the latest example of a key theme driving GOP Senate primaries across the country: divided and leaderless, Republican Senate campaigns have nothing to run on but a string of broken promises, and this dynamic will continue to define Republican Senate primaries across the map,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said in a statement.

This post was updated at 6:06 p.m.

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With friends like these, who needs Steve Bannon?

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) (pictured, right) gave a fairly candid assessment of the closely watched Alabama Senate GOP primary runoff on Tuesday afternoon, admitting his preferred candidate, appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) (pictured, left), was the underdog.

“Roy Moore is probably the favorite right now but it depends on turnout, the ground game,” Shelby told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. “If there’s a small turnout or an average turnout, a turnout like it was, Moore should win. A bigger turnout would probably favor Senator Strange.”

Shelby insisted high turnout would give Strange a “window to win,” and argued that it’s a “closer race than we think at the moment,” alluding to a spate of recent polls that show Strange, the establishment favorite, trailing firebrand former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore by a double-digit margin.

Strange is trailing in spite of a hearty endorsement from President Trump and close to $10 million in outside spending from allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Many Trump allies, including former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, are in Moore’s camp.

The race may be the first time that a Trump-endorsed candidate loses election since his nomination, and Republicans are widely concerned that it will pour fuel on the fire of the establishment-populist war already wracking the GOP.

Polls close at 8 p.m. ET in Alabama.

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In spite of his polarizing image and sagging approval ratings, President Trump has yet to suffer a major loss at the ballot box. That may change on Tuesday — because Trump embraced the establishment.

Trump called into the “Rick & Bubba Show” in Alabama on Monday morning to talk up appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who’s facing off against hardline conservative and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) in Tuesday’s primary to fill out the Senate term of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

I’m 5-0 in these races. And I want to keep it, I want to make it 6-0,” Trump bragged about his special election record since becoming president. “He is a good man. We can’t lose him.”

But it looks like that streak’s about to end. Every public survey of the campaign has found Moore in the lead, including a trio of polls released in recent days that show him with a double-digit edge. And while most strategists in the state think the contest is a bit closer than that and say Trump has helped Strange close that gap some in the race’s home stretch — “The race is close, it’s been closing,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), a Strange backer, told TPM on Monday — most also think that Moore is the odds-on favorite to win on Tuesday.

The conversation in Alabama today is what’s the margin of the Moore victory going to be, not who’s going to win,” said one Alabama GOP strategist who’s backing Strange in the race. “Trump is not a pied piper who is going to lead people blindly down a path.”

Strange has been dogged from the start by how he got the appointment in the first place. He was given the job by disgraced then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R), who had to resign shortly afterwards amidst a sex scandal. Strange had been the state’s attorney general at the time and in charge of investigating Bentley, and many see the appointment as fishy — something Trump himself admitted on Monday.

Because he was appointed by a little bit of a controversial guy I guess as I understand it, now it makes the race tough,” he said, shortly after blaming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) unpopularity as hurting his candidate in the race. 

And while Trump came in to help Strange in a Friday rally, he admitted during that speech that “I might have made a mistake” politically in backing the underdog in the race.

It’s clear the race hasn’t been Trump’s overriding focus — he twice referred to Moore as “Ray,” not Roy, in his Monday interview, and he spent almost as much time in his Alabama rally attacking NFL players who dared kneel during the national anthem as promoting Strange (and much more time in subsequent days). But a loss there will show the limits of his ability to move base conservatives, especially when he gets crossways with them.

While Trump’s endorsement has likely kept Strange in the race at all, Moore has benefitted from the backing of a constellation of big-name Trump supporters, from Breitbart head and former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to Housing & Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to Fox News host Sean Hannity.

They jumped on the bandwagon, but Moore has led the race from the start — equally because of his rabid base following and because of Strange’s issues.

And while whoever wins the primary will be the heavy favorite to replace Sessions, Democrats haven’t completely ruled out helping former State Attorney Doug Jones in the general election. Former Vice President Joe Biden is heading to the state to help his old friend, and national Democrats are taking a wait-and-see approach on whether he might be competitive against Moore given his penchant for comments that are polarizing even in Alabama.

The [National Republican Senatorial Committee] might have to spend money to protect this seat, which is crazy in my mind,” said Alabama GOP strategist Chris Brown, who ran another candidate’s campaign in the first round of the primary and is reluctantly voting for Strange. “This is not going to be a race we’ll stop talking about after this week.”

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) isn’t thrilled with how his close friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and others are trying to tweak their Obamacare repeal bill to buy off skeptical senators like him with more money for their states.

“It seems the bazaar is open, and that’s not the way to legislate. That flies in the face of everything I’ve been talking about and arguing for. ‘What would it take to get that vote — $10 billion, $15 billion?’ I mean, it’s unsavory,” McCain told TPM when asked about the changes to the bill Graham and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) are pushing that would give more money to states like Alaska and Kentucky that are home to key swing votes on the bill.

McCain all but killed the bill when he announced his opposition on Friday, forcing those trying to win over reluctant supporters to try to buy off senators with big handouts for their states.

His comments were rather similar to what Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), another no vote and a senator McCain has long sparred with, had to say about the bill earlier in the afternoon (Paul called the buy-offs “unseemly”).

He laughed when TPM said that was the closest he’d sounded to Paul in a long time.

“Well, if you live long enough,” he said with a grin.

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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) made clear he still isn’t anywhere close to backing Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal Obamacare — and called last-ditch efforts to add buy-offs for him and other no-leaning senators “unseemly.”

“If you’re going to say the whole country is short of money, which we are … everybody should get the same thing,” he told reporters Monday afternoon, ripping the last-second cash infusions Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have made for states like Kentucky and Alaska, home of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a key undecided vote. “No, it doesn’t seem right.”

Paul made it clear he’s still strongly opposed to the bill, both because of the process and the policy.

“I’m just not for a trillion-dollar grant program that keeps most of the Obamacare spending,” he said. “This is thrown together sort of in a slipshod way … A lot of this is about electoral politics.”

And he made it clear the basic structure of the bill is unacceptable to him.

“In my mind a compromise does not include block grants,” he said. “I just don’t think this is repeal. … I believe that it represents Republicans accepting a trillion dollars of Obamacare spending.”

He and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are both hard noes on the bill and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is leaning no, enough to kill the bill, while Murkowski and a handful of other have expressed deep reservations.

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President Trump came a bit un-Moored during a Monday morning radio interview, screwing up the name of the man who’s most likely to be Alabama’s next senator.

The president called into a radio show Monday morning to sing the praises of appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), who he stumped for on Friday night. But he showed a clear unfamiliarity with his opponent, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore — twice referring to him as “Ray” in the interview.

According to, Trump told radio hosts Rick and Bubba that Strange “is going to be a great senator” who will coast in the general election.

“Ray will have a hard time. If Luther wins, the Democrats will hardly fight. If Ray wins [Democrats] will pour in $30 million,” he continued.

When host Rick Burgess clarified that Moore’s first name was Roy, Trump replied that it’s “not a good sign” for Moore that he didn’t know his name.

“I don’t know that much about Roy Moore,” Trump continued. “Roy Moore is going to have a very hard time getting elected against the Democrat. Against Luther, they won’t even fight.”

Moore has led Strange, the establishment pick, in every single public poll of the race. And while Trump’s endorsement and last-minute campaign appearance for Strange have breathed some life into Strange’s campaign, a number of Trump allies including Steve Bannon have jumped on Moore’s bandwagon. Trump agreed to back Strange after heavy lobbying from Senate Republicans including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Alabama strategists view Moore as the clear favorite heading into Tuesday’s primary.

Host Rick Burgess told that he wouldn’t have corrected the president — “But when he said it twice, I had to say something.”

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