Mark Makela/Getty Images(BIRMINGHAM, Ala.) — Next week, Alabama voters will head to the polls for a primary election for the Senate seat previously occupied by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Seven candidates are running for the Democratic nomination, though it’s the Republican primary that has gained national prominence.
Here’s a look at what you need to know about the Alabama primary:
Why the seat is open
The Senate seat was previously held by Alabama native Jeff Sessions, who served as senator for 20 years before his nomination by President Trump to serve as attorney general.
Following Sessions’ confirmation in February, then-Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley appointed the state’s attorney general, Luther Strange, to temporarily fill Sessions’ Senate seat until the general election. Bentley later resigned after allegations that he used state resources as governor to hide an affair with one of his top aides. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey replaced Bentley as governor following the resignation, and called for a special election in April.
Sessions was first elected in 1997. Since then, the state has been represented by two Republican senators. In his last election in 2014, Sessions was unchallenged and won the general election with more than 97 percent of the vote. The senior senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, was elected for the first time in 1987 and is not up for re-election until 2022.
In the 2016 presidential election, Trump won Alabama with 62 percent of the vote.
Who is running
Among the nine Republicans running for the vacant seat, three are flagged as main contenders: incumbent Sen. Luther Strange; former judge Roy Moore; and Mo Brooks, representative for Alabama’s 5th congressional district.
Strange officially stated his candidacy for Sessions’ seat on Dec. 6, just 18 days after Trump announced he would be picking Sessions for attorney general. Strange was appointed in February to temporarily fill the seat left by Sessions. Previously, Strange served as the attorney general for Alabama. After winning the Republican primary, he lost the race for lieutenant governor in 2006.
On Tuesday, Strange was endorsed by Trump, who tweeted that Strange “has done a great job representing the people” of Alabama.
Strange has come under fire from his rivals for the substantial advertising support he has received from the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC that has been known to support Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Politico reported that Steven Law, the PAC’s president, said, “While he doesn’t direct what we do, McConnell has made it very clear that Luther’s race is his No. 1 political priority right now.”
According to Politico, the fund had spent $3.5 million on the race as of late July, including an ad tying Brooks to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Roy Moore previously served as the chief justice for the Alabama Supreme Court, but was suspended in November 2003 for refusing federal court orders to take down a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building.
He was re-elected to the position in 2013 but was again removed in May 2016 for ordering other judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses, although the state’s ban on the matter had been overturned. He announced his Senate bid in late April.
Moore was endorsed by actor Chuck Norris, who said of the candidate, “Judge Roy Moore is the real deal. The Washington establishment knows they won’t be able to count on him, but Alabama voters can. … That’s why the Washington establishment is spending millions trying to defeat Judge Moore.”
Moore released an ad Tuesday slamming McConnell, Sens. Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham, and House Speaker Paul Ryan. “Send them all a message,” the ad says while calling out the majority leader’s “DC slime machine.”
Mo Brooks currently represents Alabama’s 5th district in the United States House of Representatives. He serves on the Armed Services; Foreign Affairs; and Science, Space and Technology committees. Previously, Brooks was elected to the Alabama House and Madison County Commission, and he later served as Alabama special assistant attorney general. Brooks was also a founding member of the Freedom Caucus. He has been endorsed by Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham and Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows, R-N.C., among others.
In July, following public criticism of Sessions by Trump and speculation that Sessions might be removed from his role as attorney general, Brooks released a statement offering to withdraw from the Senate race if the other GOP candidates did as well, clearing the field for Sessions to become the Republican nominee for the Senate general election.
“He can return to the Senate where he has served us so well,” Brooks said in a statement. “I support President Trump’s policies, but this public waterboarding of one of the greatest people Alabama has ever produced is inappropriate and insulting.”
Why this race matters
At a time when the president’s support within his own party wavers, the Alabama Senate special election holds importance significance as contenders are doing all they can to affirm their allegiance to the White House.
According to a CNN poll released Tuesday, the president’s approval rating among Republicans has fallen to 59 percent, down from 73 percent in February.
Strange has been a steadfast supporter of President Trump and said at a candidate forum last month, “President Trump is the greatest thing that’s happened to this country. I consider it a Biblical miracle that he’s there.”
In response to Trump’s endorsement, Strange released a statement Tuesday.
“I am so deeply honored and humbled to receive the endorsement and support of our president. President Trump’s election and hard work has given millions of people hope again, and I’m proud to stand beside him to make America great again,” he said.
Moore has applauded Trump’s controversial ban on transgender personnel serving in the military. In a statement on Facebook last month, Moore said, “I commend President Trump for putting our nation’s military preparedness before political correctness. As U.S. senator, I will not stand by while the left uses the military for social experimentation.”
Brooks has campaigned as a strong supporter of Trump, writing on his website, “I supported Trump in 2016 and wrote a $2,500 check to help him win.”
According to Richard Fording, a professor of political science at the University of Alabama, this election “will continue to be influenced by Trump and that it will flat out be a referendum on his performance as president.”
The GOP now holds 52 seats in the Senate. The Democrats hold 48; two independent senators caucus with the Democrats. A win for the Democrats would be a significant gain for the party, but is unlikely given the strong Republican leaning of the state. Among the seven Democrats running in the primary, contenders include Doug Jones, who served as U.S. district attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, and former naval officer Robert Kennedy Jr., who shares no affiliation with the famous presidential family.
What will happen Tuesday
If one candidate emerges from the primary with 50 percent of the vote, that individual will win the seat. If no candidate reaches this threshold, a runoff election will be held on Sept. 26, followed by a general election on Dec. 12.
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