You might be asking why you should care about Alabama, or if I have completely lost my mind talking about the potential replacement for now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a Trump-friendly state. Have I?
Let me break this down for you. The President’s approval rating in Alabama is roughly 80 percent. The primary pits incumbent senator Luther Strange against former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. Strange has been endorsed by the President and Vice President while also being a reliable ally of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Backed by both the White House and Senate leadership, shouldn’t it be a slam dunk for Strange? Why waste precious time with this discussion?
Moore has had a solid lead since the beginning of the primary over Strange. He was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court for failing to remove the Ten Commandments off of government property after being ordered to do so by a federal court and attempting to use his position to nullify the Hodges decision, which gave gay couples the right to marry in the United States. In a state like Alabama, where the single largest voting bloc is social conservatives, there are plenty of people willing to buck the President’s wishes.
Majority Leader McConnell is very worried about this matchup. He suspects, as do I, that if Moore prevails, there will be a primary shockwave for Republicans in 2018. Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and James Inhofe (R-OK) have privately pleaded with the President, Politico reported, to get more engaged in Alabama to save Strange’s bacon.
It doesn’t look like the President cares about those primary challengers. In fact, he has gone out of his way to stoke them, especially against Jeff Flake (R-AZ), where he already endorsed Dr. Kelli Ward. With an already-energized Democratic base and grassroots activists more engaged since Civil Rights Era, a confused Republican primary could spell trouble for the Republicans in the House and the Senate. In the Senate, the Republicans can at least take solace in the fact they only have to defend eight seats, whereas Democrats have to defend more than twenty.
What the Moore-Strange primary represents, even more than the insurgents (Bannon/Moore) versus the establishment (McConnell/Strange) is a test of the President’s staying power. Sure he’s popular, but how much does his base actually do as he asks outside of vote for him? Will the Trump Republicans show up for down-ballot races? Political scientists suggest they won’t (and neither will most of you) if they are not regular voters.
This primary could answer a lot of questions. I would have to lean Moore right now, but if he wins by more than four or five points, then we would have to seriously consider the power of Trump’s base in down-ballot races. The primary is set for September 28th.