President Trump’s endorsement of Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.) was supposed to settle things.
An anti-establishment president would repair his frayed relations with Republican leaders by backing their favored candidate in Alabama’s special election for a U.S. Senate seat. A crowded primary race in the heart of Trump country would then be all but decided.
It settled nothing.
On the eve of the first round of voting, Trump is clashing with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over the stalled GOP agenda, and Strange, despite the Trump bump, is unlikely to win the nomination outright Tuesday.
A bruising one-month runoff campaign looms for the top two finishers, and Trump’s die-hard supporters in the state are divided.
For Republicans, the Alabama contest is a snapshot of the party’s churning base at this moment in the Trump presidency. In a deep-red state, the dominant squabbles are not over ideological purity — that GOP test of old — but over loyalty to Trump and over who has the most visceral connection with his core voters.
The violence in Charlottesville, sparked by white nationalists, has hovered over the final sprint, and Republican candidates have issued statements of condemnation. As with Trump, some of them did not mention white nationalism or white supremacy by name.
“I was hoping for a quiet, lazy summer in our very humid state. That’s not to be the case this year,” Terry Lathan, the chair of the Alabama GOP, said in an interview.
Strange’s Republican challengers include former state Supreme Court justice Roy Moore, who has a passionate following among religious voters, and Rep. Mo Brooks, a prominent conservative in the U.S. House. Christian Coalition leader Randy Brinson and state Sen. Trip Pittman have also drawn support.
State law would require a primary runoff election Sept. 26 unless a candidate wins 50 percent of the vote Tuesday. The final round of voting is scheduled for Dec. 12, when the Republican nominee will face…