In a few hours, we’ll see whether President Trump has knocked former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore off his high horse.
Moore, an inflammatory religious conservative who has twice been kicked off his state’s highest court for refusing to honor court orders regarding the separation of church and state, is the front-runner in a crowded GOP primary field to win Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat from Alabama.
But Trump’s late endorsement of appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) — as well as millions in ad spending from super PACs aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — have sought to boost Strange to second place ahead of Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), a firebrand from the economic conservative rather than social conservative wing of the party, ahead of what’s expected to be a primary runoff.
Moore spent election day riding a horse to the polls — an election-day tradition for the traditionalist — before delivering one of his trademark religious right quips in an interview with Vox.
“There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois,” Moore declared before backtracking some when asked exactly where there were American communities living under Muslim law.
“Well, there’s Sharia law, as I understand it, in Illinois, Indiana — up there. I don’t know,” he continued.
Trump, in between tweeting attacks on the CEOs dropping out of his business council and taking impromptu questions where he defended the alt-right and blamed the left for the Neo Nazi-triggered violence in Charlottesville, VA last weekend, heaped praise on Strange in a Tuesday morning tweet. The president remains immensely popular with Alabama Republicans, and his last-minute boost could push Strange into a runoff and could help him stop Moore down the line.
Big day in Alabama. Vote for Luther Strange, he will be great!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2017
No candidate is expected to win an outright majority to avoid a primary runoff, though Moore might have a slim outside shot of pulling off an outright win. McConnell’s allies have turned some of their fire on Moore in recent weeks after concentrating on tearing down Brooks, though they say that was designed to start softening him up for the next round of votes rather than because they were worried he might surge to a majority of the vote.
Democrats are quietly hopeful that if Moore wins the primary they might be able to put the race in play — but admit they have a big hurdle in their own primary.
The Democratic establishment has rallied around former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who has endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden and civil rights icon and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). But he’s facing a challenge from a random dude named Robert Kennedy, Jr. (no, not that one), who on name recognition alone is polling strong. If Jones can beat Kennedy he has an outside chance at defeating Moore, but that’s no sure thing. With other candidates in the race, Democrats may be looking at a primary runoff as well.
Polls close at 8 p.m. ET. If no candidate wins a majority, runoff elections will occur on Sept. 26.