Two stringently anti-choice Republicans—one with the support of radical anti-choice activists—appear unlikely to win enough votes in the looming August 15 special election primary to curb a runoff race for the Republican nomination to later run for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ seat in the U.S. Senate.
In order to advance to the general election for the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, a candidate must win at least 50 percent of the primary vote. If no candidate does so, the race will head to a September 26 runoff to determine who will represent the party in the December 12 general election.
Polls show former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and U.S. Sen. Luther Strange—who temporarily holds the seat after being appointed by former Gov. Robert Bentley (R)—leading the crowded field of Republicans. Local news television station FOX10 News and Strategy Research released a poll on Wednesday, conducted through a statewide telephone survey, that found Moore leading Strange 35 percent to 29 percent.
A JMC Analytics and Polling survey conducted in the first week of August also found Moore leading the pack with 30 percent of voters backing him while Strange trailed with 22 percent of voters. House Freedom Caucus member U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks came in third in the poll with 19 percent support.
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President Donald Trump announced his support for Strange in a Tuesday tweet where he gave him his “complete and total endorsement.” Strange has also picked up the support of some key members of the Republican establishment, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and his super PAC, the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He currently leads the field in funding with “the most cash on hand of the major candidates in the race with about $934,000 in his campaign account,” according to a Tuesday report from AL.com.
Since he was appointed to replace Sessions in Congress, Strange has pushed anti-choice legislation such as the Sanctity of Human Life Act, a so-called personhood measure that would grant constitutional rights to a fertilized egg, likely banning abortion and some types of birth control. Strange’s office wrote in a press release announcing the legislation that, if passed, it would “empower states to begin creating the legal framework to guarantee” those rights. It went on to tout other bills opposing reproductive freedoms that Strange has co-sponsored in his short time in Congress, including the Conscience Protection Act, which would codify protections for those who refuse to provide or be associated with abortion care, and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which would, among other things, codify the Hyde Amendment’s annual ban on most federal funding for abortions.
When congressional Republicans attempted to plow ahead with measures to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) earlier this summer, Strange not only supported the move—which would have left millions without access to insurance—he also slipped in an amendment that appeared to further restrict abortion funding.
National Right to Life (NRTL), an anti-choice organization, gave Strange their formal endorsement in early August. Political Director Karen Cross claimed that the U.S. senator’s “position on life reflects the true values of Alabama’s voters” in a statement on the move.
Cross pointed to Strange’s leadership in the Senate Values Action Team as proof of his commitment to pushing anti-choice politics, calling him “a leader in the fight for pro-life legislation in the United States Senate.” Strange announced in April that he would co-chair the Senate Values Action Team, touting the group as a “leading force for pro-life and religious liberty legislation” in a press release. The action team, according to a 2007 report from HuffPost, was created to align ultra-conservative members of Congress with religious right groups such as Focus on Family.
Even before he made it to Congress, Strange pushed his anti-choice views as attorney general in Alabama. In that capacity, he signed onto a federal lawsuit in 2012 challenging the ACA’s birth control benefit, reportedly claiming it was an “attack on religious liberty.” The next year he sent a letter to then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spearheading what his office characterized in a press release as a “national effort” to oppose the benefit that included the support of attorneys general from Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.
Meanwhile, Troy Newman, president of the radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue and co-founder of the Center for Medical Progress, has thrown his support behind Moore in the race, saying in a Wednesday press release announcing his endorsement of the candidate that Moore was the “kind of man of honor and principle we need in Washington, D.C..”
Moore was suspended from his position as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for the remainder of his term in 2016 after urging other judges in the state to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision. He had also been removed from office in 2003. In 2015, Moore was the subject of a judicial ethics complaint alleging that the justice had aligned himself with anti-choice domestic terrorists. Upon launching his campaign in 2017, he pushed his commitment to his extreme stances against abortion and LGBTQ equality.
Moore also acts as the president emeritus of the Foundation for Moral Law, a nonprofit legal organization he founded that according to its website works to “restore the knowledge of God in law and government.” The organization has filed a bevy of legal briefs—including in U.S. Supreme Court cases—to weigh in on issues ranging from gambling to marriage equality. Among the beliefs detailed by the briefs posted to the foundation’s website is a defense of “personhood” legislation.
According to AL.com, Moore has raised roughly $456,000 for his campaign, putting him behind Strange and Brooks.
Though Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, appears unlikely to make the runoff race if current polling is any indicator, he has nonetheless sunk significant money and energy into the race. His campaign website borrows personhood language that claims “life begins at conception” and vows to fight against abortion rights, touting his “perfect” voting record as rated by NRTL. While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Brooks co-sponsored several measures to restrict access to reproductive health care, including an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.
On the Democratic side of the race, Robert Kennedy Jr. is leading, according to at least one recent poll of “likely” voters conducted by Raycom News Network and Strategy Research. Kennedy’s campaign site characterizes the candidate as “a fiscally responsible Democrat who leads with faith.” He says he supports fixing the ACA, or “Obamacare,” instead of repealing the health-care law.
When it comes to abortion, Kennedy’s site says he believes “that the difficult choice to end a pregnancy is a family decision that specifically resides with the woman.” It continues that, “As a person guided by faith, I believe our goal should be twofold: a) reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies though education and family-planning resources, and b) provide the women who experience unplanned pregnancies with the support and prenatal resources to carry babies to term, if they choose to do so.”
The site also highlights Kennedy’s views on voting rights, including his support for early voting and same-day registration policies.
Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, also a Democrat, came in second in the aforementioned Raycom poll with 28 percent voters’ support. Jones has worked on several high-profile cases, including the prosecution of two men responsible for the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four young girls and on the indictment of abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph.