PIKE ROAD, Ala. (AP) — On a humid afternoon, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, on his campaign bus named the Drain the Swamp Express, pulled into a central Alabama farmer’s market and said he is the true conservative to help enact the agenda of President Donald Trump.
Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in his own stump stop said the country voted for change with the election of Trump, but there are people in Washington D.C. who don’t want it. “The swamp!” someone interjected from the crowd.
In the Alabama race for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ former Senate seat, the Republican slugfest primary is about love of all things Trump — with contenders competing to woo Trump voters — and disdain of the so-called swamp of Washington D.C.
But Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the position in February, last week was handed what could be his trump card in what’s become a contentious GOP civil war. Trump delivered an endorsement of Strange one week before voters head to the polls, on Tuesday.
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“Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!” Trump tweeted Tuesday night.
The Strange campaign within hours had radio and digital ads touting the endorsement in the closing days of the campaign in a state that overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016.
“I think it’s going to make the difference. That’s what I told the President,” Strange said. Strange said the president offered his support in a Tuesday phone call and asked what he could do. “I said, well a tweet would be great,” Strange said.
Despite national plummets in his approval ratings, Trump remains popular among Republican voters in the Deep South state where Trump resoundingly defeated Hillary Clinton.
“The average working man out here in America, we do not give one damn bit about the Russia situation,” John Lake, who works at a Mobile-area shipyard, said during a Brooks campaign stop earlier this summer. “We’re thinking about how we are going to pay our bills, how are we going to retire.”
While Strange is boosted by Trump’s endorsement, he could also be dragged down by accusations of his ties to establishment Republicans.
Strange is backed by a super political action committee tied to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The PAC has pumped millions into an advertisement blitz on behalf of Strange as it seeks to beat back GOP insurgents. Ever since a series of messy primaries led to losing general election Senate races in 2010 and 2012, Republicans led by McConnell of Kentucky have worked aggressively to defeat challengers deemed as fringe.
But that backing has become a major rallying cry for Strange’s challengers. Brooks has labeled him as the candidates of the “swamp critters.”
“The principled conservatives, my constituents, they’re excited about telling Mitch McConnell that we don’t like him butting into the state of Alabama and we want different leadership and we want support for President Trump’s agenda,” Brooks said at one campaign stop.
“We’ve got people up there that don’t want change despite the fact in November 2016 the people of this country voted for change,” Moore said.
Moore was twice removed from duties as chief justice for defying courts on gay marriage and the public display of the Ten Commandments. He is particularly considered a tough competitor for Strange in the GOP primary because of his heavy support from evangelical voters.
The heated Republican primary will head into a September runoff unless a single candidate tops 50 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting on Tuesday.
Becky Gerritson, head of the one the state’s most active tea party groups, said Republicans in her area don’t care for McConnell. Moore won the tea party organization’s straw poll, but Gerritson said she supports Brooks.
“They are sick and tired of what is happening in Washington,” Gerritson said. “We voted for Trump because we are ready for change.”