In a blow to the Republican Washington establishment, Alabama voters on Tuesday handed a victory to controversial former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in the race to fill the Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions. Washington super PACS affiliated with GOP Senate leadership poured millions into appointed Senator Luther Strange’s campaign in Alabama’s special primary runoff. But during an emotional concession speech Tuesday night, Strange blamed his defeat on a complicated political climate.
“The seas, the political seas, the political winds in this country are very hard to navigate. They’re very hard to understand,” Strange told supporters at the Aloft Hotel in Homewood. “So it’s been a tough deal.”
Strange said he was proud of the campaign he ran against Moore, a religious conservative. “And we left everything out on the field. There is nothing else, or if you want to use the court analogy, on the court. We did everything that we possibly could. I wouldn’t change it at all,” Strange said.
Unofficial results showed Moore with 54.6 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s runoff. Strange won only four counties: Sumpter, Madison, Jefferson, and Shelby.
Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence rallied in Alabama on Strange’s behalf in the days leading up to Tuesday’s runoff, though Trump during his Huntsville rally wondered whether he’d made a mistake in backing Strange.
Moore was ousted twice from the Alabama Supreme Court — first for refusing to remove a giant Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building, and again for ordering judges not to comply with a federal ruling allowing same-sex marriage.
Strange called the race the task of a lifetime, and said his campaign had to contend with a political environment he’s never before experienced.
In December, Moore will face Democratic nominee and former federal prosecutor Doug Jones. In a statement Tuesday, Jones said he began his general election campaign more than a month ago. “After years of embarrassing headlines about top public officials in this state, this race is about the people of Alabama and about choosing a candidate with character and integrity they can be proud of,” Jones said in his statement. “I will never embarrass the people of Alabama. I am running so the people of Alabama can be proud of their next senator.”
Hatton Smith, who led volunteers with the Strange campaign, said it became clear in the last two weeks that the scales tipped in Roy Moore’s favor. “There was an anti-Washington feeling. And when Moore captured that sort of thread, that’s what rode him to victory,” Smith said. “And try as we might, we couldn’t overcome that.”