Roy Moore Wins Alabama Senate Primary
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I want to take you now to Alabama where Roy Moore, who is sometimes known as the 10 Commandments judge, easily won a Republican Senate primary runoff. He defeated Luther Strange, who is currently serving in the seat, in a race that exposed battle lines within the GOP. NPR's Debbie Elliott is on the line from Orange Beach, Ala. Deb, good morning.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So we had some fairly important Republicans, President Donald Trump, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both backing Luther Strange. He loses. What happened here?
ELLIOTT: Well, this race is very much, you know, you could call it a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Alabama's conservative voters delivered a big punch to the GOP establishment. Moore had campaigned as the outsider candidate. He ran a campaign to drain the swamp, and no matter how much money Mitch McConnell and other Republican groups put in, Moore came out on top. Even as Trump endorsed and stumped for Luther Strange, an - the interesting dynamic here was that the political players who were aligned with the president during his campaign, including former White House adviser Steve Bannon, were on the other side. They were in Alabama supporting Roy Moore. So that's how he won.
GREENE: It was Trump-base voters who came to the candidate who Trump was not supporting. And I mean - I mean, Moore has been controversial to say the least, right? He's former state supreme court chief justice, twice removed from the bench for defying federal court orders. I mean, what message did he send after this big win?
ELLIOTT: Well, for one thing, that he's still behind the president's agenda. Here he is at his victory party in Montgomery last night echoing what we heard Donald Trump saying during his campaign.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROY MOORE: Together we can make America great. We can support the president. Don't let anybody in the press think that because he supported my opponent that I do not support him. As long as it advances our society, our culture, our country, I will be supportive.
ELLIOTT: Now, the rest of his speech was more traditional Roy Moore, sounding more like a Sunday sermon than a victory lap, striking that religious tone that really works for him in Alabama. And that is, you know, returning the nation to God, to a public acknowledgement of God.
GREENE: Well, in listening to themes like that, it makes me wonder, like, is this an Alabama story or is this a national story? This was a special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' seat, but it does, as you said, seem like there's a battle for the soul of the party playing out here.
ELLIOTT: Well, if you listen to Steve Bannon, there's an insurgency in the works. You know, he has pretty much declared war on Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment. And last night, he made a speech at Moore's victory party talking about this being a start of a revolution. Here's what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
STEVE BANNON: And you're going to see in state after state after state people that follow the model of Judge Moore that do not need to raise money from the elites, from the crony capitalists, from the fat cats in Washington D.C., New York City, Silicon Valley.
ELLIOTT: You know, and he even pointed out to the supporters there in the room that Tennessee Senator Bob Corker had announced that he was going to retire next year. He's a Republican of course, and the crowd just erupted in cheers.
GREENE: I mean, this is just amazing to watch now where this goes. So Moore is going to run in a general election now in a few months against a Democratic candidate. Steve Bannon, I mean, in theory, is going to be very much behind him, but will President Trump, you know, switch over and support him?
ELLIOTT: Well, yes.
GREENE: What's going to happen in this race?
ELLIOTT: According to a tweet last night from the president, he congratulated Roy Moore on his primary win and said, Roy, win. In other words, we need you to win. And then he erased all of his past tweets supporting Luther Strange. I don't know if he erased them, but...
GREENE: He erased them, try - like they never existed, this never happened.
ELLIOTT: Well, I don't know if he did it, but they disappeared, yes.
ELLIOTT: They disappeared from his account.
GREENE: That is amazing. All right. NPR's Debbie Elliott, covering what feels like a pretty significant political moment in the state of Alabama. Deb, thanks.
ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.