Will the negative election ads work?
By Steve Flowers
The very interesting and entertaining Republican Primary for our open U.S. Senate seat culminates this Tuesday with the clash between two Titans. Judge Roy Moore and Big Luther Strange will be in a Titanic battle to fill the seat left vacant when Jeff Sessions became U.S. Attorney General.
The results from the August 15 first primary were predictable. The turnout was about 18 percent, about what you would expect for a Special Election in mid-August, during 100-degree dog days of summer and one race on the ballot. Moore garnered 39 percent, Strange had 33 percent, and Mo Brooks received a respectable 18 percent.
The early polling and constant polling revealed that Roy Moore had a hard-core 30 percent of the electorate. It was and still is a solid block of voters that are going to vote for Moore come hell or high water.
Those of us that know politics knew that Moore’s 30 percent would become accentuated and would grow to 40 percent with a low voter turnout. That is exactly what happened. The final poll and the only one that counts is the count of those that show up to vote. Older people vote and Moore’s supporters are more ardent, dedicated, and older. They showed up and voted. They will again on Tuesday. Turnout is as critical as it was on August 15. Therefore, Luther Strange’s path to victory is narrow.
The Roy Moore popularity and hard-core support is a phenomenon and anomaly in this day and time in politics. It is very similar to George Wallace’s appeal in his hey day.
Although, unlike Wallace, who was a professional politician and demagogue in the classic Southern stereotypical style, Moore is a true believer. He has put his money where his mouth is. He has lost his job, not once but twice, for his stands for the Ten Commandments and against gay marriage. I doubt George Wallace would have given up his job as governor if a federal judge told him to get out of the school house door in the 1960’s.
However, Moore’s support is deeper than just an evangelical base. He is a true populist in the mold of a George Wallace or even Huey Long. This job of U.S. Senator actually fits him better in voters’ minds than governor. He could have and probably should have dug up and recycled an old Wallace slogan used by the fighting little judge from Barbour County in his presidential forays, “Send them a message.”
Moore amazingly carried 60 out of 67 counties on August 15. It was not just rural counties either. He won Mobile and Montgomery. Strange carried Imperial Jefferson and Brook’s carried his home bailiwick of Madison.
Luther Strange had all of the money. The Washington super PAC’s let it be known early that they were going to load him up and treat him as an incumbent. They were not just whistling Dixie. In the first primary, they spent over $5 million. Moore spent $400,000. Folks that is a 15 to 1 advantage. They have outspent Moore 10 to 1 in the runoff.
With the Washington money also comes the Washington gurus – the best pollsters and media experts in America. They polled Alabama Republican voters early and late and found Donald Trump’s agenda was very popular in the Heart of Dixie. They gave Luther Strange the pro-Trump script and he stuck to it perfectly. They hammered the Trump/Strange message repeatedly. They have stuck to the script in the runoff. Luther’s 33 percent vote on August 15 puts him within striking distance of Moore in the runoff.
Luther was bolstered by both the Trump endorsement and also the Alabama Farmers Federation endorsement. This conservative group’s support is vital in a statewide race.
The former State Attorney General did well as expected among upscale urbane voters in Jefferson and Shelby counties. He also did surprisingly well in some of the more populous counties of North Alabama, especially Tuscaloosa, Talladega, Cullman, DeKalb, Jackson and Walker counties. Walker County had a large turnout due to a local issue on the ballot.
The pivotal question is where do Brooks’ voters go Tuesday. My guess is it is a wash at best. Most stay home. Therefore, the only route for Big Luther to make up the difference was to go negative and they really did. We will soon see if it works. Again, turnout is the key.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.