Trump, Bannon back opposing candidates in Senate primary runoff

Posted at 11:45 PM, Sep 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-16 23:45:31-04

President Donald Trump announced Saturday night that he will head to Alabama next weekend to support Republican Sen. Luther Strange in his Senate primary runoff against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

“I will be in Huntsville, Alabama, on Saturday night to support Luther Strange for Senate,” Trump tweeted. “‘Big Luther’ is a great guy who gets things done!”

Trump’s visit could give Strange, who is backed by the GOP establishment, a boost in his bid to hold onto his seat just days before the runoff election, which will be held September 26. It also pits Trump’s endorsement power against that of his former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who has aggressively backed Republican Moore since getting ousted from the White House last month.

In response to Trump’s announcement, Strange said in a statement: “I am proud to have President Trump’s endorsement in this race and I am looking forward to his trip to Alabama. It is an honor to work hard beside him to deliver upon his promises to the American people, like achieving tax relief for hard working Americans and building the wall on our southern border.”

Strange, whom then-Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley appointed to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions after he was confirmed as attorney general in February, received 33% of the vote in the initial primary ballot August 15; Moore got 39% and the third leading GOP candidate, Republican Rep. Mo Brooks, took 20%.

Trump first endorsed Strange before the primary, tweeting, “Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!”

Strange is also the candidate of choice for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to keep the seat, which Sessions had held for two decades.

Trump’s announcement comes hours after Brooks threw his support behind Moore. Brooks is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and his endorsement highlights a rift within the Republican Party between the GOP establishment and the conservative wing Moore is counting on.

In his announcement Saturday, Brooks called the race “an epic battle between the people of Alabama who put America first, and the Washington Swamp,” adding that he had already cast an absentee ballot for his chosen candidate.

Brooks declined to endorse either candidate after losing in August. However, in his conciliatory comments, he appeared to speak more highly of Moore than Strange.

“I want to compliment Judge Roy Moore on the high quality race he ran,” Brooks said to supporters at the time. “He ran a very honest campaign — perhaps most importantly, a very honorable campaign.”

In his remarks Saturday, Brooks said, “We must be strong during the 10 days left before the election. The Strange/ McConnell forces care not one twit about truth; they freely use malicious lies in their non-stop, scorched earth, campaign of personal destruction.”

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also recently endorsed Moore’s candidacy.