Moore, Strange advance in Alabama GOP primary

Moore, Strange advance in Alabama GOP primary
© Greg Nash
Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) will advance to the Senate primary runoff to fill the Alabama Senate seat left open by Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump: Some statements about him in Mueller report are 'total bulls---' Colbert hits Trump after Mueller report: Innocent people don't say 'I'm f---ed' The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? MORE, setting up a high-profile clash within the GOP.
The result had been expected — Moore came into Tuesday as the consensus front-runner and Strange, the incumbent, appeared to have pulled ahead of Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksGOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama Poll: Roy Moore leading Alabama GOP field Alabama Holocaust Commission condemns GOP lawmaker's use of Hitler phrase 'big lie' MORE (R-Ala.) in the race's final weeks. President Trump's endorsement last week appears to have helped to bolster Strange's bid in the final days. 
But in a special election primary smack in the middle of August, most poll-watchers expected low turnout, which injected some uncertainty into the race. 
The final results appear largely in line with the consensus — Moore led Strange 41 percent to 32 percent when The Associated Press and the New York Times called the race about two hours after polls closed. 
But while Brooks had been polling just a few steps behind Strange, he ultimately fell far behind. 
Since no candidate is projected to hit 50 percent, Moore and Strange will move onto a Sept. 26 runoff before the December general election. 
The three top candidates ran the race in the shadow of President Trump, who sports a 55 percent approval rating in the state according to recent Gallup polling, a figure far ahead of his sinking national average. 
The three candidates spent much of the race jockeying over who could be the best steward of Trump's message in the Senate. That dynamic made Trump's decision to endorse Strange, the fruit of a push by top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? Overnight Health Care: McConnell offering bill to raise tobacco-buying age to 21 | NC gov vetoes 'born alive' abortion bill | CMS backs off controversial abortion proposal HR 1 brings successful local, state reforms to the federal level and deserves passage MORE (R-Ky.), a powerful one. 
Yet it has also opened the door for his opponents to tar Strange as the pick of Washington insiders — both Moore and Brooks have evoked McConnell in campaign ads as the embodiment of the very swamp that Trump has promised to excise from Washington. 
Moore blasted Strange as a McConnell stooge during his victory speech on Tuesday, arguing that "the attempt by the silk-stocking Washington elitists to control the voice of the people of Alabama has failed."
And he made a direct appeal to his fellow candidates, including Brooks, to "join with me to defeat the Washington crowd." 
Moore made his name thanks to two major statewide controversies, one over his decision to ignore a court order to remove a Ten Commandments statue he commissioned from state land and another over his refusal to follow the 2013 federal Supreme Court.
That hard-line stance has served him well so far, allowing him to hold a strong coalition together despite being massively outspent. But his polarizing nature begs questions about whether his support can grow ahead of the runoff.
McConnell lobbied allies aggressively to support Strange, who he and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are treating as an incumbent even though he was only appointed temporarily to fill the seat in February.
The majority leader's allied super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, has spent millions on Strange's behalf, first tarring Brooks for his past criticism of Trump and then shifting to blasting Moore once the group felt confident about Strange's position. 
During Strange's victory speech, he played up his support from Trump by recounting the telephone call he received last week from Trump to share his endorsement. 
"He knows I am the person in this race who will help him make our country great again," Strange said of Trump. 
Then-Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Strange to temporarily fill the seat vacated by Sessions ahead of the special election. But Strange’s critics immediately bristled at that appointment because Strange’s office was known to be investigating Bentley at the time.
Bentley later resigned and pleaded guilty to charges related to an alleged cover-up of an affair with an aide.
Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerCain says he 'won't run away from criticism' in push for Fed seat Graham says he's 'not interested' in Mueller testifying Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed MORE (R-Colo.), the head of the Strange-supporting National Republican Senatorial Committee, congratulated Strange in a statement that played up Trump's support. 
"Tonight, the people of Alabama chose to support Luther Strange, who is a tested conservative like Jeff Sessions, in the U.S. Senate,” Gardner said. 
“President Trump’s pick for Senate successfully advanced to the run-off election, and we are confident he will be elected to remain in the Senate come December.”
Now, Moore and Strange will move onto a one-month sprint before the Sept. 26 runoff. Moore’s supporters are hopeful that the brutal fight between Brooks and Strange will drive more of Brooks’ supporters toward his campaign.
But Strange’s allies believe that Moore’s controversial resume means he won’t have much room to grow on top of those who turned out in the primary.
Moore led Strange in a recent runoff poll released by Cygnal, an unaffiliated Alabama-based political firm, and the data firm L2 last week.
The poll found Moore with 45 percent of the vote to Strange’s 34 percent. 
The runoff will serve as one of the early tests of Trump's political clout since he took office. So far, all of the GOP candidates that he's endorsed have won their elections. 
So the stakes are high on Trump too after he decided to go along with the party's leadership to back Strange despite friction between the administration and Capitol Hill Republicans. 
On the Democratic side, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones cruised to an easy victory and avoided a runoff. He has been endorsed by top Democrats like former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenFive former Obama ambassadors back Buttigieg Report: Biden will announce 2020 bid next week The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller aftermath: What will House Dems do now? MORE, but is expected to be a serious underdog in the December special general election against either candidate.