Incumbent Sen. Luther Strange and former Chief Justice of Alabama Roy Moore have advanced to a runoff election in Alabama's GOP primary to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general, the Associated Press projected Tuesday night.
On the Democratic side, the AP projected that former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones — best known for leading the prosecution of two Klansmen for the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church — won the nomination, avoiding a runoff.
The race on the GOP side was hotly contested among Strange, Moore and Rep. Mo Brooks, with strong disagreements about which candidate would best be able to advance President Trump's agenda in the Senate.
With about two-thirds of the votes counted, the AP reported that Moore finished first with 41 percent, followed by Strange with 32 percent and Brooks with close to 20 percent. In Alabama elections, a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote to win outright; otherwise, the top two vote getters must compete in a runoff.
In a tweet last week, Trump unexpectedly endorsed Strange, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's.
Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2017
Strange was appointed to the seat in February by then-Gov. Robert Bentley. Strange, then the state attorney general, was investigating Bentley for allegedly using state money to cover up a sex scandal. The appointment sparked criticism from many in the state. Bentley resigned as governor in April.
Moore is well known in the state and has raised eyebrows for his stances and judgments from Alabama's Supreme Court. He previously served as the state's chief justice but was suspended in November 2003 and then removed from the bench for refusing federal court orders to take down a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building. In 2012 he won election to the position again and last September was suspended once more, for the rest of his term, in part for directing the state's probate judges to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He resigned in April to run for the Senate.
He was endorsed by conservative actor Chuck Norris, who said, "Judge Roy Moore is the real deal. The Washington establishment knows they won't be able to count on him, but Alabama voters can ... That's why the Washington establishment is spending millions trying to defeat Judge Moore."
Moore celebrated the news earlier tonight in a tweet.
Strange has the backing of the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with McConnell.
The PAC, which has spent $3.5 million on the race as of late July, according to Politico, largely focused its attacks on Brooks for comments he made criticizing Trump during the 2016 presidential primaries. Brooks was an early supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz before pledging his support to Trump.
If Moore beats Strange in the runoff, it will be a major blow to Trump and McConnell and a sign that anti-establishment candidates may have a better chance to win GOP nominations in the 2018 midterm elections.
The runoff election is scheduled for Sept. 26, and the general election will be held on Dec. 12.