In the Alabama special election for U.S. Senate, the Republican primary was shaping up as a seemingly neat contest between the Washington-ordained “establishment” choice and a maverick conservative pick.
That is, until the president tweeted about the race — flipping the predictable narrative on its head and scrambling the rivalry between Rep. Mo Brooks and Sen. Luther Strange, who was named to fill the seat left vacant by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama,” Trump tweeted late Tuesday. “He has my complete and total endorsement!”
The endorsement could prove a decisive factor in a fluid race. With any candidate unlikely to win an outright majority of the vote Tuesday, the top two vote-getters are expected meet in a run-off election in late September. Polling suggests Roy Moore, a controversial former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is likely to grab one of those two slots — leaving Brooks and Strange to duke it out over the remaining one.
The president’s decision to weigh in during the final days of the contest “is what people refer to as a game-changer,” said Perry Hooper Jr., a co-chairman of Trump’s Alabama campaign who has endorsed Strange. “I think it’s going to really help undecided voters, because Donald Trump’s popularity goes off the page here.” Strange’s campaign quickly cut an ad featuring the tweet.
But the president has thrown a curveball to his supporters who have cheered Brooks as the anti-establishment, pro-Trump choice in the race — leaving many of them bruised and baffled with just days to go until ballots are cast.
Sam Givhan, chairman of the Madison County GOP and a senior vice chairman of the state party, described “a lot of disappointment here in North Alabama” among party activists and Trump supporters, who aired their concerns Wednesday on local talk radio and social media.
“It looks like there’s some significant frustration with the president over this,” Givhan said.
For Matt Murphy, a conservative radio host in Alabama, the president’s endorsement suggested Trump “has no clue who Luther is … and he just stabbed Mo in the back,” Murphy tweeted. “Too bad, really. Mitch [McConnell] running the show??”
Other conservative activists echoed Murphy’s concerns, expressing doubt that Trump could have made a truly informed endorsement. On WVNN radio, host Dale Jackson…