Strange bedfellows in Alabama Senate race

Republican Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., appointed to fill the remaining term of the missing-in-action Attorney General Jeff Sessions, received the oddest endorsement for a full term from President Trump at a Strange rally in Huntsville, Alabama Friday night – vote for Luther Strange, because he hardly knows the equally AWOL Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

During a rally in support of Luther Strange’s election campaign, President Donald Trump attempted to distance any relationship between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Strange despite McConnell-linked money streaming into the race and a report that McConnell handpicked Strange for the seat.

“He’s not a friend of Mitch McConnell. He doesn’t know Mitch McConnell, until just recently,” Trump said of Strange at Friday night’s rally for Strange. He added that he wasn’t saying that as a bad comment about “Mitch, at all.”

“He just got there,” Trump said of Strange. He stated that he once asked Strange how well he knows McConnell and Strange claimed that he had just met McConnell.

Mitch who?  Seems Luther Strange should have known and met Mitch McConnell when he worked as a lobbyist in the nation’s capital, making him no stranger to the swamp President Trump wants to drain:

Mr. Sessions, who was sworn in as attorney general on Thursday, was succeeded on the same day in the Senate by the attorney general of Alabama, Luther Strange, a former Washington lobbyist and onetime partner at a white-shoe Birmingham law firm with deep ties to the establishment wing of the Republican Party.

“He’s going to be a mainstream conservative Republican,” Karl Rove, the former strategist for George W. Bush, predicted of Mr. Strange, whom he met in the 1990s when the two worked together on the ferocious campaign for Republican control of the Alabama Supreme Court. “He’s very smart, really hard-working.”

Getting praise from Karl Rove as a “mainstream Republican conservative,” a phrase some might apply to Sen. John McCain, may indicate that Strange is not exactly the swamp-drainer Trump’s own base might warmly embrace.  Justice David Souter was once considered a mainstream conservative jurist, and look how that turned out.  Granted, Strange has participated in conservative victories at the state level, and even McConnell himself did stellar work in holding Justice Antonin Scalia’s SCOTUS seat until Trump could appoint Neil Gorsuch.  But many in Trump’s base feel that Judge Roy Moore is more of a rebel in the Trump mode, willing to fall on his sword for conservative principles, than an eminently ineffective Senate leadership.

Luther Strange has about 8 million reasons to be knowledgeable about Mitch McConnell, who is moving heaven and earth for Strange:

The Republican leader is aiming to thwart Rep. Mo Brooks and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in a special election in Alabama next month. Both men are campaigning against McConnell as a despised symbol of the establishment – and both would exacerbate his already stiff challenge wrangling his GOP Conference.

McConnell is responding in kind. His super PAC is set to spend as much as $8 million to boost his favored candidate, recently appointed Republican Sen. Luther Strange. McConnell has activated his sprawling donor network and pressed the White House for more resources. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP campaign arm McConnell controls, has warned consultants they’ll be cut off from future work if they assist Strange’s opponents.

And in a highly unusual step, one of McConnell’s top political lieutenants has begun quietly advising a long-shot Republican primary candidate running for Brooks’ House seat. The move is designed to get in the congressman’s head and dissuade him from emptying his campaign war chest in the race for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat.

Again, Mitch who?  It’s hard not to know someone who is funneling $8 million into your campaign.  Trump likes loyalty, and Strange did stick with Trump, unlike McCain, on Obamacare repeal and replace.  Trump said he was not asked for any quid pro quo, but the cynical might suggest that Strange was thinking about it in a hotly contested Alabama primary.

Speaking of a quid pro quo, Strange, as Alabama attorney general, reportedly “ramped down” his investigation of crimes committed by the man who appointed him to the Senate, Gov. Robert Bentley:

As attorney general, Strange was investigating Bentley for crimes that would later force Bentley to resign and plead guilty to charges related to campaign finance and ethics fraud. There are those in Alabama that have made the connection between Strange’s office ramping down their investigation and the Senate appointment.

Would you be shocked to find that Strange ran on a pledge to “Clean up Montgomery” – the state capital – when running for attorney general in 2010?

Because of the ethical cloud surrounding Strange’s appointment, Alabama’s new governor, Kay Ivey, called a special election for 2017 instead of waiting until the November 2018 election as Bentley had scheduled. The new election date is Dec. 12, 2017, with primaries scheduled for Aug. 15. If no primary candidate receives a greater than 50 percent share of the vote, a runoff is scheduled for Sept. 26.

Alabama voters may very well be facing a choice between an ethically challenged Strange and what many consider a bedrock conservative, Judge Roy Moore.  Moore has received the endorsement former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, who said he left the White House full of people with dubious loyalties to the Trump agenda, and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.  Gorka explains:

Dr. Sebastian Gorka, former deputy assistant to Trump, explained that Strange is a “swamp dweller” and Moore will be better at advancing the president’s “Make America Great Again” agenda.

Gorka said that Trump endorsed Strange because he’s been under pressure by people like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

He noted that Trump said during the rally on Friday that he will “campaign like hell” for Moore if he wins in Tuesday’s runoff.

“The judge is ahead at least six points right now, ahead of Luther Strange, because the people in Alabama understand that this is the person who represents the agenda of what the president came in to do,” Gorka said.

Sarah Palin embraced Judge Roy Moore as someone whose loyalties and priorities are properly aligned and someone who, like Trump, will serve the American people and not the political establishment:

Sarah Palin returned to the campaign trail Thursday night to rally support for Judge Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, armed with a pitch heavy on anti-GOP establishment criticism.

“We’re sending Trump someone who has our back – not Mitch McConnell’s,” Palin told a raucous crowd of hundreds .President Trump endorsed the other candidate in this race, Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed in February to fill the seat left open by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general.

But Palin, the former 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, insisted that backing Moore is not an act of defiance toward Trump.

“A vote for Judge Moore isn’t a vote against the president, it is a vote for the people’s agenda that elected the president,” Palin said.

Can Judge Roy Moore, like Trump, buck the establishment and win? You betcha.


Courtesy Daniel John Sobieski

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