Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roy Moore, speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala.
Photo by Butch Dill/AP

On Primary Day in Alabama, things don’t go GOP leaders’ way

Republican leaders, including Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had a plan for Alabama’s U.S. Senate special election: go all in for appointed Sen. Luther Strange and propel him to victory on Primary Day.

GOP voters in the state had a different plan.

Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will meet in a runoff next month to determine who will earn the GOP nomination to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat, the Associated Press projected Tuesday.

Moore cruised to a first-place finish in the Republican side of the special Senate primary, getting 39.8 percent of the vote with 86 percent of the state’s precincts reporting. Strange, the incumbent who received the backing of President Donald Trump, came in second, with 32.1 percent of the vote.

Moore and Strange will face off again in six weeks, in a Sept. 26 primary runoff.

And that makes Republican leaders nervous for a reason. Roy Moore, who was twice removed from the state bench for ethics violations, would be a constant source of annoyance for the Senate GOP, which is largely why McConnell and his team have worked so hard on Strange’s behalf. Nevertheless, the former state Supreme Court chief justice now looks like the favorite.

For Trump, who recently became an enthusiastic cheerleader for Strange, Moore’s success suggests the president’s influence is waning – even in a state he won last fall by nearly 30 points – which is likely to affect how he’s perceived on Capitol Hill between now and the 2018 midterms.

But while the Republican primary made most of the headlines, let’s not overlook the Democratic primary.

Alabama is certainly a ruby-red state, but with so many of the state’s leading GOP officials facing ugly scandals in recent years, some state Democrats believe this Senate race isn’t over before it starts. Indeed, party Democratic leaders quickly rallied behind former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who brings a very credible resume to the table.

All he had to do is get by his primary rival – who’s name was Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Bobby Kennedy, as he’s known, has no relation to the Kennedy family you’re likely familiar with, but his name nevertheless helped generate some attention for his campaign and gave him a boost in some statewide polling. Kennedy was not, however, an especially good candidate: up until quite recently, he apparently lived in California, and when reporters asked what he does for a living, Kennedy didn’t want to say.

Would he win the primary anyway thanks to his name? Apparently not: Jones won easily, receiving more than 63% of the vote, more than enough to avoid a runoff.

To be sure, a Democrat hasn’t seriously competed in U.S. Senate race in Alabama in decades, but the combination of Jones’ credibility and Moore’s nuttiness might make this one interesting.

Alabama

On Primary Day in Alabama, things don't go GOP leaders' way