- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2017

President Trump waded into the Republican primary in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race this week, putting his coalition on the line against a slew of high-profile conservative commentators.

Mr. Trump took to Twitter late Tuesday to endorse Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat on an interim basis after Mr. Trump elevated Jeff Sessions to lead the Department of Justice.

But many conservatives are backing Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus and favorite of talk-show hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin and conservative organizations like the Madison Project.

The battle is being fought squarely on Mr. Trump’s territory, with both Mr. Brooks and Mr. Strange arguing they’re the Trump-boosting, tough-on-immigration candidate Alabama wants in Washington.

Also in the crowded field is former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who became a national figure by defying federal courts on religious expression and gay marriage, and who recently landed an endorsement from action movie star Chuck Norris.

The primary is Tuesday, and unless someone tops 50 percent, the two candidates with the highest vote totals will advance to a September runoff.

A poll released this week from JMC Analytics showed the leader of the pack is Mr. Moore, whose claim to fame is his refusal to remove the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Supreme Court, which led to his eventual removal from the high court. He was re-elected to the chief justice post, only to be removed again for instructing state court clerks not to sign gay marriage licenses.

Mr. Moore received the support of 30 percent of the respondents, compared to 22 percent for Mr. Strange and 19 percent for Mr. Brooks.

The poll carried a 4-percentage-point margin of error and was done before Mr. Trump intervened Tuesday night.

Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama,” the president said on Twitter. “He has my complete and total endorsement!”

Mr. Brooks suggested Mr. Trump had been hoodwinked into his endorsement.

“I respect President Trump, but I am baffled and disappointed Mitch McConnell and the swamp somehow mislead the president into endorsing Luther Strange,” he said. “In any event, while Mitch McConnell and the swamp managed to mislead the president last night, I still support the America first agenda, and all the polls show we have the momentum.”

Mr. Moore also downplayed the news, saying “people are not voting for President Trump.”

“They’re voting for his agenda, which I firmly believe in,” Mr. Moore said, according to AL.com. “They’re voting to see the next senator of the state of Alabama, and I don’t think President Trump is running for senator of Alabama. So it will be on our credentials.”

The president is certainly on the minds of the state’s Republican primary voters, said Brent Buchanan, a GOP strategist, who said the race has boiled down to a battle over “who has been the Trumpiest of us all.”

“It really has been like a dating contest so far, and everybody is ready to go on a date with Donald Trump, and that is all they have talked about,” Mr. Buchanan said. “The opportunity I see for Strange is that he can parlay this into turning out Trump lovers who had not previously thought about this race.”

Mr. Strange’s backers include the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), closely linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The SLF has blasted Mr. Moore and Mr. Brooks, labeling the House lawmaker a latecomer to the Trump train, saying the congressman criticized then-candidate Trump’s immigration positions.

Among other things, the SLF funded an ad last month that featured footage of Mr. Brooks saying on MSNBC, “I don’t think you can trust Donald Trump with anything he says.”

Immigration crackdown group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC has risen to Mr. Brooks‘ defense, saying he “clearly has the strongest record against illegal immigration.”

Both Mr. Moore and Mr. Brooks have run against Mr. McConnell, labeling him a member of the “establishment” and part of the problem in Washington.

The Senate Leadership Fund and other groups connected to Mr. McConnell have returned the favor by putting millions into building up Mr. Strange and tearing down his top rivals. Mr. Buchanan said the ads have been unfair but effective — putting Mr. Brooks in a tough spot.

“I think it really comes down to the fact that the Senate Leadership Fund did a good job defining him with rank-and-file voters as anti-Trump, and if he comes in and tries to change that narrative, that table has been set,” he said.

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