Roy Moore’s secret, powerful constituency

Roy Moore’s secret, powerful constituency
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Roy Moore lost his job as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court twice. But in the process, he gained a fiercely loyal following likely to propel him to a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Polls show Moore leading Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeMississippi is new headache for GOP in the South McDaniel makes GOP Senate challenge official in Miss. The Trump Presidency: Year One MORE (R) in advance of Tuesday’s runoff election for the Republican nomination for Strange’s seat. That lead has held despite millions in spending by Strange’s allies and even President Trump’s endorsement.
If Moore makes it through the runoff, and over Democratic nominee Doug Jones in the December special election, he will owe a debt of political gratitude to an army of evangelicals — and specifically Southern Baptists — who see him as a hero in the culture wars that have shaken social conservatives in recent years.
"He doesn't have to say he's associated with the church," said Steve Flowers, a longtime Alabama political analyst. "It is the only issue he has. The evangelical voter is so pronounced in Alabama that it surpasses the Tea Party. That's the reason Moore will win the race."
A JMC Analytics survey conducted last week showed Moore leading Strange by 8 points, 47 percent to 39 percent. Among evangelical voters, Moore leads 55 percent to 34 percent, while nonevangelical voters back Strange by a 52 percent to 32 percent margin.
Lankford’s political career began in 2010, when he beat six other candidates — including several state legislators — to win an open House seat in his first run for office. 
Four years later, he was on the outside again, when the Sooner establishment lined up behind charismatic young state House Speaker T.W. Shannon in a bid for an open Senate seat. Lankford shocked Shannon, beating him by 20 points.
What Lankford lacked in money, he made up for with name recognition among a very specific set of voters. He had spent 13 years running the Falls Creek Youth Camp, an annual summer retreat for Baptist children that attracted 50,000 attendees every year. Many of those who voted for Lankford sent their children to his camp.
"They're the most powerful single bloc inside the Republican coalition," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a political strategist and pollster before he won his own seat in Congress. "This is not a Tea Party electorate. This is a Moral Majority electorate."
Now, in Alabama, Baptist and evangelical leaders are lining up behind Moore. More than 50 members of the clergy publicly backed Moore in a letter in August, and the campaign has touted endorsements from evangelical leaders like James Dobson, Bob Vander Plaats and Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
Strange is no mealy mouthed sectarian: He has spoken often on the trail of his Christian faith — he is a member of the Episcopalian Church — and in July he said it was a “biblical miracle” that President Trump won office. 
But it would be hard for any contender to compete with Moore’s reputation in conservative evangelical circles. The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has been removed from office twice: First for refusing to move a monument to the Ten Commandments he had installed on state property, then for publicly defying federal court orders that legalized same-sex marriage.
His ousters left a mark, both literally — the state Supreme Court building's floor still bears scratches from the monument’s removal — and politically. Moore was hailed from pulpits across Alabama as a crusader for the religious right, upholding traditional values against a secular and politically correct Washington establishment.
"It's a double-edged appeal, it seems to me, both a traditional moral majority appeal and a challenge to the establishment," Cole said.
Now, Moore’s base of support is the most conservative in the state — and the most likely to turn out to vote.
Baptists are the most conservative group of any mainstream religious tradition: 60 percent call themselves conservative. They told Pew Research Center pollsters they favored Republicans by a 61 percent to 26 percent margin.
And Alabama has a higher percentage of Baptists than all but one other state, Tennessee: 31 percent of Alabama residents are members of a Baptist faith tradition, according to Pew’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. Just 23 percent of Oklahoma residents are Baptist.
The power of the Baptist vote has been on display for years in Alabama. A 1999 proposal to establish a state lottery to fund state schools was leading the polls by a wide margin, before pastors organized a grass-roots campaign against the ballot measure; it failed, by 8 percentage points.
On Tuesday, those voters have another chance to upend the political order — at the cost of Trump's wishes. It's a matter, Flowers said, of sticking with someone who has been a household name in evangelical circles for so long.
"They've known Moore for 25 years. They've been in the trenches with him. They've known Trump for a couple of years," Flowers said. "There's nothing that the Mitch McConnell establishment super PACs could have done anymore."