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In the Race to Replace Jeff Sessions, Alabama Senate Hopefuls Bend the Knee to Trump

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Since Donald Trump stumbled into the Presidency six months ago, he’s failed to pass any major legislation and faced tanking approval ratings. As such, some Republicans are attempting to carve out a niche in opposition to him. Senators John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins, who killed the President’s healthcare repeal in the Senate, have since been praised by their constituents and some on the left for their principled stance. Vulnerable Republican politicians are beginning to distance themselves from Trump, most notably Arizona Senator Ben Flake, who has called for his party to “stand up” to the President and is currently writing a book criticizing Trump and the Republican Party for supporting him. It might be that the President will be a political liability for some Republicans in the coming four years.

But the growing anti-Trump sentiment in the United States hasn’t reached Alabama, a deep-red state that the President won by 13 points in 2016. Republicans who are campaigning to fill current Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Senate seat in this year’s by-election feel the best way to win is to pledge allegiance to the Donald, and the results are comical.

The current incumbent and front-runner is Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill Sessions’s seat by now-disgraced former governor Robert Bentley. Bentley was in the midst of a possible impeachment over both a sex scandal and campaign finance malfeasances, and Strange, as the state’s attorney general, was leading an investigation against him. Many felt Bentley sent Strange to Washington as a political move designed to stop the inquiries into his past.

Strange has the support of a lot of establishment Republican PACs and the advantage of incumbency. In addition, Donald Trump recently tweeted an endorsement of the Senator. About a month ago, Strange was waxing poetic about the President at a town hall. “President Trump is the greatest thing that’s happened to this country,” he said. “I consider it a Biblical miracle he’s here.” We shouldn’t forget the name of Donald’s favorite book in the Bible: “Two Corinthians.”

Strange faces a challenge from Mo Brooks, a sitting representative from Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Brooks is a Freedom Caucus Republican who supported Ted Cruz in the primary, but he has since found a place in his heart for Trump, saying he’d force a vote on Trump’s border wall by holding a filibuster in the Senate while reading from the King James Bible. In the past, he’s said that both the Republican and Democratic parties were “waging a war on white people.” Brooks has received the backing of such luminaries as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Ann Coulter.

Complicating the race is Roy Moore, a former Alabama Chief Justice who has been twice removed from office and polls well among Alabama’s Republican base. In 2003, Moore refused to remove a sculpture of the Ten Commandments from a courthouse and was sacked by the state’s Court of the Judiciary. He was re-elected in 2013, but suspended again after instructing probate judges to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Moore’s puckish religious chauvinism makes him very popular among Alabama’s evangelical Christian base but slightly less so statewide. Some polls released before Trump’s endorsement suggest Moore will place first in the upcoming August 15 primary, and he may do well enough to narrowly beat either Strange or Brooks in a runoff, especially if turnout is low. Alabama Democrats see an opportunity in this scenario, as Moore only narrowly won election as Chief Justice five years ago, and was very unsuccessful in a 2010 run for governor.

The current favorite in the Democratic pack is Doug Jones, a former state attorney appointed by Bill Clinton, notable for leading the prosecution of the men who bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham during the 1960s. His main challenger is Robert Kennedy, Jr., a self-described “fiscally responsible Democrat” with an interesting set of positions: he is pro-choice but in favor of gun rights.

Should Jones or another Democrat face Moore in a general race, the party is planning to capitalize on the Republican Party’s current inability to do anything about healthcare and try to eke out a win. Both Jones and Kennedy want to maintain the Affordable Care Act and improve it.

However, Alabama has not elected a Democrat to a statewide office in six years, and it remains to be seen who will win the contentious Republican primary. The odds of a Democratic Senator replacing Jeff Sessions are long, and Trump remains broadly popular in the state. In all likelihood Strange, Brooks, or Moore will go on to the Senate and position themselves as a key ally to the President.

In Alabama we have a saying: “thank God for Mississippi!” It’s meant to imply that our neighbor to the west makes us look better; they’re perhaps the only state whose politics are more embarrassing than ours. However, looking at this Senate race, it’s hard to do anything but cringe if you’re a Southern progressive.

Written by Sam West

Sam West

Sam West is a writer and a student of history and journalism. You can follow him on Twitter @samlwest.

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In the Race to Replace Jeff Sessions, Alabama Senate Hopefuls Bend the Knee to Trump