In Alabama's Senate race, contenders fight over who is Trump's biggest fan

From Reuters - August 13, 2017

(Reuters) - At first glance, U.S. Representative Mo Brooks seems exactly the kind of candidate President Donald Trump would love to see win Tuesday's Republican primary election for Alabama's open U.S. Senate seat.

The 63-year-old Republican is a Freedom Caucus member and an immigration hardliner who calls opponent Luther Strange "Lying Luther," echoing Trump's penchant for bestowing insulting nicknames on his political foes. Strange, 64, is the former state attorney general who was appointed to fill the Senate seat left vacant after Jeff Sessions became U.S. attorney general.

"Trump would like to drain the swamp; Brooks would like to blow it up," said Larry Powell, a professor of communication at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "But their goals are the same."

Yet it was Strange, not Brooks, who earned a coveted prize last week in a race that could measure Trump's influence in a state he carried easily in last year's election, despite recent indications that his support among Republicans may be softening.

Trump took to Twitter to offer Strange his "complete and total endorsement."

The tweet came as something of a surprise. Known as "Big Luther" thanks to his 6-foot-9-inch (2.1-meter) frame, Strange has a close alliance with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is under fire from Trump for failing to push his agenda through Congress and refusing to eliminate a filibuster that gives Democrats veto power over many key bills. Strange agrees the filibuster should remain in place.

In a telephone interview, Brooks noted that Trump followed his endorsement of Strange with a barrage of Twitter criticisms aimed at McConnell, which Brooks called "extraordinarily baffling."

"Any Alabama voter who wants to see President Trump's legislative agenda pass the United States Senate would be much better served to vote for Mo Brooks than Luther Strange," Brooks said. "President Trump's entire legislative agenda is dead so long as the Senate's 60-percent rule requires President Trump to get the consent of Democrat leader Chuck Schumer to pass it."

Both Brooks and Strange may be losing to the third viable candidate in the nine-way race. Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, 70, has led in several voter surveys, though polling in the race has been limited.

The Moore and Strange campaigns did not respond to requests for comment.

Assuming no candidate reaches 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will go head-to-head in late September, with the winner a heavy favorite against whoever emerges from the Democratic primary.

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