Their names are not on the ballots.
But when voters in Alabama go the polls this week to select a Republican senate candidate, it will be Donald Trump and his recently ousted strategist Steve Bannon whose names are on people’s lips.
In recent days, what would otherwise have been a straightforward – albeit colourful – contest between two candidates vying to fill the seat vacated by former Jeff Sessions, has turned into an increasingly bitter proxy war between Mr Trump and some of his formerly closest aides, who fear his anti-establishment instincts are being diluted by mainstream Republicans.
Last week, at a rally for the “insurgent” candidate Judge Roy Moore, a 70-year-old religious conservative who sought to have a statue of the Ten Commandments installed in his courthouse and who lost his job as Alabama’s top judge after telling his colleagues to ignore a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said voters needed to fight for their ideas. A member of Mr Trump’s cabinet, Ben Carson, is also supporting Mr Moore.
Ms Palin said the “Washington swamp” was threatening to force the President’s hand on various issues: apparently a reference to Mr Trump’s bipartisan deal with the Democrats and his backtracking on a promise to deport so-called Dreamers.
“The swamp is trying to steal the victory that we worked so long and hard for – to steal the victory that a lot of us put our reputations on the line for. We voted to put America first, not the political elite that had ignored us for decades,” she said.
Mr Bannon, now back at the helm of the powerful alt-right Breitbart News, is also backing Mr Moore – a trial run for any of a number of insurgent campaigns he is planning against mainstream candidates during the 2018 midterms.
In the city of Selma, many African American residents said they were impressed with neither candidate. Laurie Washington, who was sitting on the stoop of a friend’s home, said many believed Mr Strange was seizing on an easy opportunity after Mr Sessions joined the cabinet. She said many people felt Mr Moore was not qualified for the job. “They just appear to be at each other,” she said.
Another woman, who asked to be identified by her first name, Brenda, said she was not impressed by Mr Strange’s performance as the state’s Attorney General. “Luther Strange wants to be the senator but he’s not done anything,” she said.
On the eve of voting on Tuesday, Mr…