After a voter turnout state officials called “abysmal,” incumbent U.S. Sen. Luther Strange has been forced into a runoff with former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for the GOP spot in the race to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The two Republican finalists will compete in a runoff election Sept. 26, and the winner of that contest will face Democrat Doug Jones — who won outright from a field of eight candidates — in the general election Dec. 12.
Strange, who was appointed to Sessions’ seat in February, was an early favorite after quickly being backed by Senate leadership in Washington. He reportedly spent more than $2.5 million on advertising and recently gained a coveted endorsement from President Donald Trump.
However, some Alabama voters may have been wary of his appointment by former Gov. Robert Bentley and receptive to Moore’s conservative record and his pledge to buck the Washington establishment.
In the end, Moore secured nearly 40 percent of all the Republican votes cast on Tuesday, while Strange collected 32 percent. Neither received enough to avoid a runoff.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, who was considered a potential front-runner in recent polls, came in at a distant third place with just 19.7 percent of the vote. A few hours after the polls closed in Alabama, Brooks conceded, saying he would pursue re-election in his congressional district.
Baldwin County’s Trip Pittman, an advocate of term limits who is voluntarily leaving Alabama’s Senate at the end of his current term, finished fourth with just under 7 percent of the statewide vote. Pittman did manage to secure third place finishes in both coastal counties.
From his watch party in Jefferson County — one of only five Alabama counties where he received the most votes — Strange continued with what has been the theme of his campaign: President Donald Trump.
Despite a 35-percent approval rating nationwide, Trump remains popular with voters in the Yellowhammer state, and he used that support to give Strange a helping hand more than once in the primary. First, with an endorsement on Twitter and then in a pre-recorded robo call that went out earlier this week.
Addressing his supporters, Strange played up his relationship with the president.
“I said, ‘Governor… I mean, Mr. President, you can help me by doing a Tweet” and he said, ‘OK, What else can I do?’… and it went on from there,” Strange said. “The reason he did that is because he cares about our state, and he knows that I’m the person in this race who’s going to help make our country great again.”
Strange, who served two terms as Alabama’s Attorney General, said he loved serving in a statewide office but securing his Senate seat for a full term would provide an opportunity to “change the future of this country.”
He called the primary race a game of “eight on one,” but facing a runoff against Moore, Strange seemed to favor his odds on Sept. 26.“I like the odds of a one-on-one match and a contest because the contrast will be great.” he added. “Really, what it all boils down to is, who is best studied to stand for the future of this country with our president to make sure we make America great again.”
Unlike ads targeting his primary opponents — many funded through a super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — Strange’s remarks Tuesday night were mostly positive.
Further South, though, Moore directed a few barbs Strange’s way after securing the most GOP support in 60 of 67 Alabama counties. In front of a crowd of supporters, Moore declared “the attempt by Washington elitists to control the vote of the people Alabama has failed.”
Though 10 candidates ran in the election, Moore singled out Strange for taking “millions of monies” from Washington and for the negative tone of his primary campaign.“I’d like to extend a hand of friendship to my fellow candidates who did not make this runoff,” Moore said. “Those candidates ran an honorable and ethical campaign. They ran on their own merits and not on negative attack ads [like] my opponent in this campaign.”
According to Alabama GOP Chairman Terry Lathan, more than 70 percent of voters cast their ballot for a Republican on Tuesday. Regardless of what happens in the runoff, Lathan said she’s “confident Alabama will send a conservative senator to Washington.”
On the left, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones easily sealed his place on the Democratic ticket by besting seven other candidates to secure more than 60 percent of the vote. At his election night watch party in Birmingham, Jones said his campaign strategy had worked — a strategy to “talk to the people of Alabama.”“We’re going to have the same message through December that we’ve had into August, and that is to make sure people in this state have affordable health care, that everybody has an opportunity to earn a living wage and women have equal opportunity for the same wages for the same work as their male counterparts,” Jones said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but the issues we’re talking about are what we call kitchen table issues — those that parents, grandparents, and children sit down and talk about at night.”
During his tenure as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Jones oversaw the conviction of two former Klansmen responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 that killed Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair.
Evoking the events that unfolded at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, Jones said the goals he’s worked for his entire life were being “tested.”
“Fifteen years ago, I went up against the Klan, and we won,” Jones said. “It took a long time, but we put those guys in jail. Honestly, I thought we were past that, but It looks like we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”