Despite throwing full weight behind Sen. Luther Strange and doing everything to stop his opponent, flame-throwing conservative Roy Moore, both the White House and senior Republicans are concerned about his winning Tuesday's GOP runoff in Alabama. Despite the race tightening, most polls show Moore consistently leading Strange.
Friday, President Donald Trump along with Rick Dearborn, a veteran of Alabama politics, and Bill Stepien, the White House political director and other administration officials were travelling to Huntsville to campaign for Strange but privately expressed apprehension. As time runs out, the party tried a last minute coordinated, scorched-earth campaign to bring Moore to ashes. Its sheer breadth including non-stop TV ads, a meticulously-crafted get-out-the-vote effort, and detailed, oppo-research-filled debate prep sessions for Strange stunned all in Alabama's political class.
Moore, a 70-year-old former state Supreme Court chief justice, became popular after going against the federal order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from a judicial building. A staunch social conservative, he forwards for McConnell's ouster while lambasting Republican leadership. Republicans fear that if he wins, he would instigate a broader offensive to unseat other GOP incumbents in the 2018 midterms.
Steven Law, a former McConnell chief of staff and a major spender in Alabama feels a win in Alabama would enable them to focus their energy on defeating Democrats next year rather than fighting frivolous intra-party battles. Despite not divulging results of internal polling conducted on Friday, Strange's advisers expressed confidence of a close race which is further boosted by Trump's visit.
A Major assault campaign was planned on air with a total cost around $2.5 million. The underfunded Moore was hit straight at his character and portrayed as a politician who used his prominence as a former judge to cash in for himself. By the weekend, Moore was facing a nearly five-to-one spending deficit on the airwaves. Alex Schriver, a Washington-based Republican strategist called it the most expensive race in state history. Washington Republicans gathered in Alabama to support Strange. The McConnell-controlled National Republican Senatorial Committee spent over $1 million on the campaign and had over two dozen staffers knocking on doors on Alabama to persuade voters in the final two weeks of the contest. The NRA, a large constituency in the Deep South state urged all for Strange and deemed Moore as unreliable regarding gun rights. The party has been trying hard to corrode Moore's base of support which is a daunting task in view of Moore's long political history in Alabama. One region under the radar is Huntsville an area of which Moore is extremely confident due to support of local conservative congressman, Mo Brooks.
Trump's rally for Strange is seen as a game changer as Trump is overwhelmingly popular in the state. Within hours of his arrival, the pro-Trump outside group America First Policies cut a digital ad highlighting Trump embracing Strange at the event. But it carried a risk for Trump as well. The lack of Strange's charisma may lead to empty seats at the Von Braun Center. Friday evening, Trump faced a jam packed arena.
Strange is also optimistic of his solo onstage runoff with Moore to give him a boost. Before the Thursday evening showdown, Strange prepared intensely with Brett O'Donnell, a noted Republican debate coach. He did intensive opposition research to anticipate his rival's attacks, participated in mock debates and crafted lines which might show his opponent completely unprepared for the job of senator. In retaliation, Moore slashed Strange for receiving support for national Republicans and called him a pawn of the party establishment and especially McConnell. He portrayed his campaign as a David vs. Goliath battle.
Moore's side is gearing up equally. A 2008 vice presidential nominee, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, 'Duck Dynasty' star Phil Robertson, Brexit leader Nigel Farage are all organizing a raucous pro-Moore rally in Fairhope, AL. Bannon might appear on Sean Hannity's Fox News program live from the rally and may host episodes of Breitbart radio from Alabama.