HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Standing in front of thousands of cheering supporters in north Alabama, President Donald Trump implored state Republicans to channel their enthusiasm for him into a vote for Sen. Luther Strange in the state’s heated Republican runoff.
“Luther is your man,” Trump said in a speech to more than 7,000 at Huntsville, Alabama’s Von Braun Center. Trump praised Strange’s loyalty to him and ability to win the general election.
The Alabama trip was an effort to buoy Strange ahead of Tuesday’s GOP runoff with evangelical firebrand jurist Roy Moore, the state’s twice deposed chief justice who has shaken establishment GOP forces by threatening to snag the GOP nomination for the seat that previously belonged to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Despite Trump’s endorsement and heavy spending by a super political action committee tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Strange is in a tight race with Moore, a darling among evangelical voters after being twice removed as state chief justice upon taking losing stances against gay marriage and for the public display of the Ten Commandments.
Moore, a West Point graduate and military police commander in Vietnam, in his speeches thunders with the style of an old-time revivalist preacher, interspersing quotations from Thomas Paine, the Old Testament and occasionally his own poetry.
“We need to go back to God. We need to go back to the Constitution. We need to go back to the principles upon which this country was founded,” Moore said at a rally earlier this month in Huntsville.
“All Washington, all the country is watching,” Moore called the race he said will be a bellwether for 2018.
Moore has a number of anti-establishment groups supporting him, including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and pro-Trump Great America Alliance.
“Are you ready to send the loudest message that you can send to D.C.,” former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told a rally in Montgomery.
Bannon will speak at a Moore rally in south Alabama Monday night, while Vice President Mike Pence will campaign for Strange at a stop in Birmingham.
Strange, the state’s former attorney general, has tried to brand himself as the accomplished candidate who will be more effective for Trump in the U.S. Senate
“He knows I’ve got his back. He knows I’m working every day to make sure his agenda to make America great again passes in the Senate,” Strange said after donning a “Make America Great Again” cap at the Trump rally. Strange said his election will send a message “that Alabama stands by its president.”
The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund has spent millions on advertisements on behalf of Strange. Moore has lashed out at the ads he says distort his views to “buy” the seat for Strange.
Moore led Strange by about 25,000 votes in the August primary, and polls have shown him leading, or in a dead heat, with Strange.
Jessica James, a Strange supporter from Mobile, said many moderate Republicans she knows have said they will vote for Democrat Doug Jones in December if Moore wins the GOP nomination.
“Moore is very extreme. He has been removed from his office as state chief justice twice because he failed to uphold the law,” James said.
Strange, who was appointed to take Sessions’ place by scandal-tainted Gov. Robert Bentley, also has his detractors.
Skip Van Pamel, an electrical contractor from Athens, Ala., said he came to the Strange rally to see the president, but said he won’t vote for Strange.
“Roy Moore, whether you agree with his politics or not, he stands up for what he believes,” Van Pamel said.