Luther Strange

Alabama Senate: Slogging toward the Run-Off

Over the past two weeks or so, the conventional wisdom has developed that former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore has opened up a comfortable lead against U.S. Sen. Luther Strange and is likely to win the September 26 run-off for the GOP nomination. That assessment is premature. This is not to say that Strange isn’t the underdog, but he doesn’t trail Moore to the degree that many public polls have indicated, and he does have a path to victory

Pollster Dates/Sample Size Moore Strange Moore Advantage
Voter/Consumer Research (R) Sept 9-10/ 604 LV 41% 40% +1
Emerson College (IVR) Sept 8-9/ 355 LV 40% 26% +14
Southeast Research Aug 29-3/ 401 LV 52% 36% +16
Harper Research (IVR)(R) August 24-26/ 600 LV 47% 45% +2
Opinion Savvy Aug 22/ 494 LV 50% 32% +18
JMC Analytics Aug 17-19/ 515 LV 51% 32% +19

Surveys taken immediately after the August 15 primary in which Moore placed first with 39 percent and Strange took 33 percent gave Moore a lead in the high teens. In recent weeks, though, Moore has bore the brunt of attacks by Strange and the Senate Leadership Fund and they have had the desired results of growing Moore’s unfavorable ratings and eroding his support. The most recent poll gave Moore a one-point lead over Strange, 41 percent to 40 percent. The Voter/Consumer Research survey was conducted for the Senate Leadership Fund September 9-10 of 604 likely Republican primary voters. According to the poll, Moore’s favorable ratings have dropped five points to 54 percent over the last two weeks while his unfavorable ratings have gone up 8 points to 39 percent.

Moore portrays Strange as a denizen of the Washington swamp and a tool of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Interestingly enough, Moore is borrowing a page from Trump in his efforts to turn Republican primary voters against the GOP congressional leadership. Strange and his allies have been hitting Moore hard on a number of issues, not the least of which is the revelation that he has used his foundation for personal gain by taking a salary in excess of $1 million. They have also reminded voters that Moore is not exactly a newcomer to politics, highlighting his 40-year career, and have pointed to past statements in which Moore seemingly dismisses the need for a border wall. Finally, Strange touts his support for President Trump’s agenda.

And, at least at this writing, Strange and the Senate Leadership Fund have dominated the airwaves. According to CMAG/Kantar Media, the Moore campaign had a spot count of 595 from August 18 through September 13. By comparison, Strange’s campaign had a spot count of 1,062 over the same period. The Senate Leadership Fund’s spot count was 2,914; the group plans to spend $1.6 million in the final two weeks. Great America PAC, a super PAC that supports Trump, has cut an ad for Moore, but the group has only put $26,000 behind it to date.

Trump has endorsed Strange, but he has come under pressure from conservative groups to back Moore in the run-off. The Senate Conservatives Fund, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, former U.S. Tom Coburn, and U.S Rep. Mark Meadows, the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, among others, have all rallied behind Moore. Trump is sticking with Strange, but a promised campaign rally may not happen. According to the Voter/Consumer Research poll, Trump remains popular with Republican primary voters, who give him a 83-percent favorable rating.

So how does Strange win the run-off? The first step is to keep driving up Moore’s unfavorable ratings. The second step is to focus on turnout. Turnout is the biggest unknown factor in the run-off. Moore has a loyal base of supporters who that will walk through fire for him, putting the onus on Strange. As such, the campaign and the NRSC are heavily focused on getting Strange’s supporters to the polls.

Strange’s supporters understand that their candidate is the underdog, with one operative describing the final days as “a slog to the finish line.” Still, no one dismisses Strange’s chances.

If Moore is the nominee, he would be favored in the general election, but he would bring a sense of uncertainty to the contest. A number of strategists have raised concerns about what having Moore as their nominee might mean (hint: no one thinks it bodes well for the party overall). Moore can be a lightning rod who could energize the opposition on issues like race and separation of church and state. Democratic strategists realize that their nominee, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, faces an uphill battle in such a red state, but the possibility of running against Moore piques their interest. They are likely to stay on the sidelines if Strange wins the run-off.

The nomination is up for grabs and the next 11 days will be worth watching.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Butch Dill