MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Seated beneath the Ten Commandments plaque that first made him a conservative icon in the culture wars, U.S. Senate candidate and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore invokes President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan — but with his own twist.
“I support President Trump’s agenda of making America great again. But I submit to you that we can only make America great again if we make America good,” Moore said in his downtown Montgomery office a day after announcing his bid for the Senate seat previously held by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Moore’s campaign theme puts a values-driven spin on the president’s populist slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and Moore’s campaign announcement spelled out what he believes isn’t good: divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage.
In what’s expected to be high-dollar slugfest of a GOP primary, with multiple candidates seeking to harness the president’s blunt-spoken outsider appeal, Moore is a far-right and polarizing entry.
“I am definitely not establishment,” Moore said with a chuckle.
Former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange currently holds the Senate seat. He was appointed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned this month amid fallout from an alleged affair with a top staffer. Bentley had planned for a 2018 Senate election — which would have allowed his pick to hold the seat longer. But the state’s new governor, Kay Ivey, moved it up to this year, setting off what’s expected to be a four-month demolition derby among Republican contenders ahead of the Aug. 15 primary.
Strange is running to retain the seat. Trump’s Alabama campaign chairman, Ed Henry — a Republican legislator who helped topple Bentley by starting an impeachment push — is running too. Randy Brinson, a Montgomery gastroenterologist who chairs the Christian Coalition of Alabama, will be another contender for evangelical votes. The field is expected to grow even larger before qualifying ends in May. Republican state Senate leader Del Marsh is among those considering a bid.
Moore first drew national attention in the 1990s when the ACLU challenged the wooden Ten Commandments panel in his Etowah Circuit courtroom. He was elected the state’s chief justice twice and removed from his duties twice — once after installing a Ten Commandments monument in the state judicial building and once after he urged defiance of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. He said both removals were wrongful.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Moore invoked both Trump’s name and God’s will. Throughout his public life, Moore has repeatedly cited God’s power in both his personal life and the law.
Yet the jurist who has made morality a core issue acknowledged he shares little in common with the thrice-married casino developer turned president.
“God puts people in positions in positions he wants. … I believe he sent Donald Trump in there to do what Donald Trump can do,” Moore said. “More than thinking I can win, it’s up to God and God’s will. We will see what God would have me do.”
Among Moore’s goals: Limit the federal government’s say in education, tackle immigration and establish a flat tax or national sales tax instead of a tiered income tax.
But Moore isn’t the only candidate invoking Trump and outsider appeal.
One Nation, a nonprofit arm of the Senate Leadership Fund to keep the Republican majority, launched a radio ad this month heralding Strange as a warrior for Trump’s agenda.
“The conservative ideals America voted for last November are under constant assault. … Alabama’s Sen. Luther Strange is standing with President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to get done what America voted for last year,” the ad said.
Henry said he has a proven track record of fighting corruption.
“I don’t know about draining the swamp, I have found if you throw a few sticks of dynamite in it the bottom dwellers will float to the top,” Henry said.
Brinson, in his announcement, said voters are tired of the “corruption, self-dealing and venality of politicians at all levels of our government.”
Moore said he hasn’t spoken to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or the national committee that’s backing current Senate Republicans.
Longtime Moore supporter Dean Young, who wore a Trump hat as he stood behind Moore during his campaign announcement, said, “The establishment better get ready for the battle royal.”
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