Alabama loves President Donald Trump, but that love, it seems, doesn’t extend to his candidates — despite multiple endorsements, Trump’s favored candidate failed to clear the field and will instead face a run-off.
On Tuesday evening, in one of the more colorful state primaries in recent memory, Republican Roy Moore defeated the Trump-blessed Sen. Luther Strange by 7 percentage points. Because neither man cleared 50 percent of the vote, both will advance the September Republican run-off.
The results weren’t exactly a shock: Moore had consistently bested both Strange and third-place challenger Mo Brooks in the polls. But in a normal political landscape, Strange would likely be the hands-down favorite to win. Besides receiving the coveted Trump endorsement — on Twitter, no less — Strange drew in millions from a Mitch McConnell-linked super PAC. Trump even recorded a robocall for Strange earlier this week.
The fact that Strange failed to win a higher chunk of the vote in a state that overwhelmingly voted for Trump in the 2016 general election may now call into question the strength of the president’s endorsement.
Still, a lack of Trump love may not be the only reason that Strange took such a distinct second, since a whiff of scandal has also followed him into the election. Former Gov. Robert Bentley, who appointed Strange to Sessions’ seat, is likely more better known by his nom de scandal “Lov Gov.” He left office in disgrace in April, after he sought to cover up a messy affair with a much younger, married staffer. And questions still linger over whether Bentley appointed Strange to be senator in an effort to undermine an ethics probe into Bentley, though little evidence has emerged to support that accusation. (When he resigned from office, Bentley admitted to one count of failure to disclose information on a statement of economic interest, and one count for failure to file campaign finance reports.)
Then there’s Moore, who is best known nationally for holding fast to his evangelical Christian beliefs — even when they get him kicked out of a job. In 2003, while serving as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore refused to remove a statue bearing the Ten Commandments from his courthouse. He soon lost that role, only to be win reelection to the bench. Then, in April 2017, he resigned from the court, after refusing to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex marriages are constitutional.
“What I’ve done is stand for my country, stand for my Constitution, and I’ve suffered accordingly,” Moore told Politico. “I think controversy will follow you if you stand up for truth. It’s that simple.”
The Democratic side of the primary was also competitive, with former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones ultimately taking home the top slot. Still, the Democrats haven’t won a Senate election in Alabama since 1992, and despite any Trump-induced unrest, they seem unlikely to start now.