The Republican primary in Alabama's Senate race is a proxy battle between political outsiders, who largely support challenger Roy Moore, and the GOP establishment, which backs incumbent Sen. Luther Strange. But Strange on Saturday declined to give a vote of confidence to the face of his establishment base, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Appearing on Fox News the morning after a campaign rally headlined by President Trump, Strange was asked whether he will support McConnell's continuation as majority leader if the party's latest effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act fails.
Strange seemed uncomfortable and stumbled through a noncommittal answer.
“Well, I've said all along that, uh, you know, if we don't get things to progress — progressing in Washington, we'll — we'll look at every option,” he said. “Whether we need — need new leadership, whether we need a new approach, I talked to the president about that. You know, we've got to get things done. The frustration level is through the roof, and I'm the most frustrated person, uh, out there, believe me.”
Strange's equivocation underscores his difficult position in the race. Despite having Trump in his corner, he has effectively been cast by Moore as an establishment figure who will perpetuate Washington dysfunction. Moore has seized the outsider's mantle for himself by highlighting the rebellious streak he displayed as Alabama's chief justice, a position from which he was removed — twice — for defying judicial orders.
To claw back some credibility as a politician who will “drain the swamp,” Strange cannot appear too closely connected to GOP leadership.
And yet Strange is relying on McConnell for financial support. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reported Thursday that as of early September, the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC, which is affiliated with McConnell, had spent $733,000 to promote Strange and another $2.5 million to air negative ads against Moore.
Since Sept. 11, the Senate Leadership Fund has spent more than $720,000 on postage and printing to advance Strange's cause and oppose Moore, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.