Freedom Caucus chairman backs Roy Moore in Alabama Senate race

Freedom Caucus chairman backs Roy Moore in Alabama Senate race
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Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the influential House Freedom Caucus, on Wednesday endorsed Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, spurning the incumbent backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) and President Trump. 

Meadow's decision to back Moore over Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe Trump Presidency: Year One Dems search for winning playbook Stephen Bannon steps down from Breitbart MORE (R-Ala.) gives the insurgent candidate one of his biggest endorsements yet ahead of the Sept. 26 GOP primary runoff.

In a statement announcing his decision, Meadows took a swipe at McConnell and his allied super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, which has spent millions on the airwaves to boost Strange.

"The people of Alabama are seeing millions of dollars in false advertising flow into their state. From what I know about the people of Alabama, their vote is NOT for sale. They want a strong man — a principled conservative — to send a clear message to Washington, D.C. ... that his vote can't be bought either," Meadows said. 

"I look forward to working with him to advance conservative principles by repealing ObamaCare, passing real tax reform and securing our borders."

Moore, a former chief justice on the Alabama Supreme Court, rose to national prominence by refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from state grounds and for declining to follow the Supreme Court's 2013 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. While those clashes have won him supporters, they also explain why the Republican establishment is so concerned with him winning the seat. 

McConnell pitched Washington Republicans for months to come together around Strange, who was appointed to the seat by then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R) in February. Strange filled the seat vacated by Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE, who is now Trump's attorney genera.

But while that appointment has given Strange the power of incumbency, his proximity to the disgraced Bentley, who later resigned after pleading guilty to charges relating to an alleged extramarital affair and its cover-up, has drawn criticism from his rivals. 

McConnell's push for Strange culminated in Trump endorsing Strange ahead of the initial Republican primary in August, sending tweets on his behalf and recording a robocall. But Trump has taken a more muted approach since Strange and Moore advanced into the primary runoff, leading to questions about whether the president will campaign on Strange's behalf. 

Trump's public distance comes in a pivotal stretch in the race, with just weeks to go before the runoff election. Moore has led public polling from the start, but there's a wild variation in his margin in recent polls, stretching from double-digits to the low single digits. 

The Senate Leadership Fund has come Strange's aid with a new round of television ads meant to chip away at Moore's favorability rating.

But a handful of conservatives, including former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, have begun to rally around Moore as the anti-establishment pick. Politico reported late last month that Bannon has decided to back Moore in a rebuke of McConnell, who has tangled with Trump over the past few weeks. 

Bannon and Meadows are known to be close and reportedly talk frequently.