Trump-backed incumbent candidate loses primary

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Tuesday won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate Tuesday night, overcoming an incumbent with the strong backing of President Trump and a major fundraising advantage.

Republicans had tried to turn the runoff for the GOP Senate nomination into a referendum on Donald Trump, but GOP voters Tuesday said Trump — and his endorsement of Sen. Luther Strange — were small factors in their choices.

Shortly after 9:30 p.m. ET, the Associated Press called the race for Moore. With 42% of the vote counted Tuesday night, Moore led Strange 57% to 43%.

Moore’s victory highlighted the strength of his base of voters in the Alabama Republican Party; the lingering questions about Strange’s appointment by former Gov. Robert Bentley and the limits of Trump’s ability to influence elections.

“I make my own decisions,” said Jim Barber, a retired construction engineer who lives in Auburn and who voted for Moore. “I was and still am a strong supporter of Donald Trump, but I differ with him on this thing.”

Even supporters of Strange — who tried to run an entire campaign on his support for Trump — said the president's backing was at best secondary. Gloria Lynn, a retired teacher who lives in Auburn, liked the Trump endorsement and said she believed Strange was the “best man for the job.” But Lynn said her vote for Strange was “more or less because I was against Moore.”

“He put the Ten Commandments (in the Alabama Supreme Court building) and someone told him not to do it and he did it anyway,” she said. “He’s against gay marriage, and you know, that’s something that’s their business, not his business.”

Voters in Auburn, Montgomery, Prattville and Pike Road cited other factors in their choice, ranging from their view of each candidate’s competence or character; state issues or general displeasure with Congress.

“I feel something for both of them, but I feel like Strange might be better at working with the people up there and getting something done,” said Jesse Russell, who voted in Pike Road.

Voters went to the polls Tuesday to choose the Republican nominee for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat after a six-week runoff that warring factions in the national party turned into a battlefield. The winner of the race will face Democratic nominee Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, in the general election Dec. 12.

Turnout had been expected to be low. Secretary of State John Merrill said Tuesday afternoon he saw “no reason” to revise an earlier prediction of a 12% turnout for the runoff. If that bears out, it would be below the already-low 18% turnout in the Aug. 15 primary.

Strange’s unquestioning support for Trump won him the president’s endorsement and an appearance at a rally on Strange’s behalf in Huntsville Friday. The president has also tweeted out support for Strange, a former Alabama attorney general, and Vice President Mike Pence appeared with Strange at a rally in Birmingham Monday.

Still, most voters — even those who support Strange — said Tuesday that they paid little heed to that.

“I voted to send one of them away,” said Caroline LaMothe, who voted in Prattville Tuesday morning. “Roy just needs to go to a church somewhere far, far away.” 

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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