The runoff for the GOP special U.S. Senate primary in Alabama is still just over five weeks away, and you can bet wealthy supporters of appointed incumbent Luther Strange in Washington and in Birmingham are getting ready to dominate the airwaves with both positive ads for Big Luther and negative attacks on Judge Roy Moore. The first real runoff poll indicates the GOP Establishment may need to double down in a hurry. JMC Analytics shows the fiery theocrat Moore with a solid 51/32 lead over the man placed in office by disgraced former governor Robert Bentley and sustained by intense support from unpopular Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (with a significant late nudge from the very popular — among Alabama Republicans — Donald Trump).
The poll is almost entirely good news for Judge Roy. He’s winning the supporters of the candidates who did not make the runoff (including third-place finisher Mo Brooks) by about a two-to-one margin, and is doing his best among voters with the strongest record of participation in GOP primaries. It appears the Trump endorsement is of limited help to Strange at this point, while his association with McConnell is a decided negative. This is, of course, just one relatively small-sample poll, but JMC Analytics did a pretty good job of predicting the first round results once you adjust for the last-minute Trump bump.
You have to figure Strange will have to use some of the bounty of his pronounced fundraising advantage to go after Moore. McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund ran one major ad accusing the judge and his wife of taking “over a million dollars” in salaries from a “charity” (actually a right-wing lawsuit mill) they ran (falsely implying, Team Moore hotly replied, that he double-dipped while on the state payroll). That seems to be all the dirt available on Roy, if you don’t think trying to deny non-Christians or LGBTQ folks their basic rights is a problem. For his part, Roy is dancing with the one that brung him: His first runoff ad attacks the “silk-stocking Washington elitists” and touts as his chief supporter: “Almighty God.”
With so much time left, Strange will almost definitely beg Trump to intervene on his behalf more loudly, perhaps even coming to the state to thump the tubs for him. Whether or not that happens, the incumbent’s ace in the hole could be an undertow of embarrassment about the idea of Judge Roy going to Washington to represent the state day in and day out, not just in the occasional act of judicial defiance. Some Republicans may even privately fear that Moore could make Democrat Doug Jones viable in the December general election.
Turnout could be Strange’s biggest problem in the runoff. By the time that election rolls around, Alabamans will be focused on more important things than politics, like Alabama and Auburn football. With Moore’s supporters being the most likely voters, Strange not only has to persuade but to motivate. So the money pouring into and out of the campaign to spare Alabama another Roy Moore psychodrama could be prodigious.