Roy Moore’s Alabama Senate win may not be a sign of a rightwing uprising

Moore’s victory may give fellow outsider candidates inspiration for next year’s midterms, but they’ll have to fight their campaigns on far different terrain

A Roy Moore supporter in Montgomery, Alabama Tuesday. Photograph: Marvin Gentry/Reuters

Roy Moore’s victory over Luther Strange on Tuesday in Alabama’s Republican primary for US Senate may have been the biggest election of 2017. But it might not mean a thing in 2018.

Those in the populist Steve Bannon wing of the conservative coalition already see Moore’s victory as a sign of a rightwing uprising before next year’s midterms, as a wave of primaries unseats those creatures of the DC swamp they see as insufficiently loyal to Donald Trump’s agenda. However, it is not clear that Moore’s win will lead to quite such sweeping changes.

Moore is as sui generis a product of the Yellowhammer State as white barbecue sauce and Bear Bryant. The social conservative firebrand has been an institution in the state’s politics for nearly two decades. He has twice won election to be chief justice of the state’s supreme court and twice been removed from office for defying federal courts; first in 2003 for refusing to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the Alabama judicial building and then, in 2016, over his defiance of the supreme court ruling legalizing gay marriage. In between he has run twice for governor and once for president and built a hardcore devoted following in the state.

His opponent, former state attorney general Strange, was appointed to the Senate in January by Republican governor Robert Bentley, whom he was investigating for criminal efforts to conceal an extramarital affair. Bentley has since resigned and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors. Even in a state where political corruption has long been endemic, the appointment – which followed Jeff Sessions’ elevation to the role of attorney general – raised eyebrows. The two faced off in an odd-year special election runoff where turnout was low and few voters were engaged.

With Bannonite populists already targeting Republican incumbents in Senate seats in Nevada, Arizona and Mississippi, the question is: did these unique local factors dominate the race, or can Republican primaries now be successfully nationalized in opposition to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell? One Bannon ally joked to the Guardian on Tuesday night that “Mitch McConnell in a Republican primary is now what Nancy Pelosi is in general elections…

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