Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies in the Republican establishment have spent four months and more than $10 million trying to defeat a fanatically religious conservative outsider running to fill the seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
On Tuesday, that outsider — former Judge Roy Moore — will face off against incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who has been backed by Senate leadership and President Trump, in the Alabama Republican Senate primary runoff. (Polls in Alabama close at 8 pm on Tuesday. You can view live returns here.)
@mjbeckel: ~$20 million has been invested into # ALSENrace, with "Team Strange" outspending "Team Moore" ~7-to-1 http://bit.ly/2yhJNvI # alpolitics
Moore believes in the supremacy of God's law over man's, and thinks, among other things, that Sharia law has already been implemented in some US cities and that the Constitution forbids Muslims from serving in Congress. He has tried to explicitly turn the GOP's Alabama Senate primary into a referendum on McConnell's leadership.
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If Moore wins despite the national GOP's all-out attack — and the latest polls have him up by 8 points — then McConnell will not just have wasted a ton of money. He'll also have a new and remarkably powerful antagonist, one who will arrive in Washington owing the majority leader nothing.
"If you're McConnell, you're just peeing your pants over the prospect of a Moore win," said Jim Manley, who served as a top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "It'd be like adding a mini thermonuclear weapon in the Republican caucus — with very dangerous consequences for those trying to reach compromise."
Strange has tried embracing Trump, who remains wildly popular in Alabama, as closely as possible — but that strategy may not be enough. The winner of the runoff still faces a general election against Democratic candidate Doug Jones in December, though Republicans hold a massive numeric advantage in the state, so the winner of the GOP runoff is all but guaranteed to be in the Senate.
Republicans in Washington may be beginning to reckon with the prospect of Sen. Roy Moore. Observers of the Senate say a Moore victory could reshape the Senate's equilibrium — perhaps by giving Democrats greater leverage for working with McConnell, but more likely by simply increasing the body's dysfunction and inability to compromise, and by giving a national platform to a judge whose political beliefs were once relegated to the far-right fringe of conservatism in Alabama.