Voters in Auburn began heading to the polls Tuesday to vote in a U.S. Senate special election primary characterized largely by frustration with Washington — on both sides of the aisle.
Since Gov. Kay Ivey called the special primary in April, a crowded field of candidates has stormed the state vying for voters' support. On the Republican side, the 10 candidates listed on the ballot have all shown conservative chops, but have battled over who will most shake up "the Swamp" in Washington and who will be President Donald Trump's strongest supporter.
On the Democratic side, the eight candidates on the ballot have distanced themselves from a president who has been the target of Democratic ire from day one.
Three candidates on the Republican side are far ahead of the rest of the pack, according to the most recent public polling available.
To win the primary out right, a candidate has to capture more than 50 percent of the vote — a scenario that appears extremely unlikely according to the polling. If no candidate gets 50 percent, the race will head to a runoff on Sept. 26 with the general election scheduled for Dec. 12.
A public poll conducted by the Montgomery-based, center-right Cygnal polling firm last week shows Former Chief Justice Roy Moore leading the pack with a little over 30 percent support.
Incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed by former Gov. Robert Bentley to replace Jeff Sessions in February, trails along with U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, who is eyeing a move to the Upper Chamber of Congress.
The campaign was marked with millions spent on negative ads, most of which was spent by a group supporting Strange aligned with Senate Majority Leder Mitch McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund.
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The ads targeted Brooks in what appears to be a race for the second place finish, which would assure Brooks or Strange a place in the likely runoff election.
Pollsters and past primary results point to a low voter turnout. Less than 500,000 are expected to vote in the primaries for either party. Several voters at Auburn's largest polling location, the Clarion Inn on South College Street, said they were disappointed by the intense attack ads.
"It bothers me very much that people in Washington are spending so much money to influence the election here," said Karen DeLano, an Auburn voter voting today who also serves as the superintendent of Auburn City Schools. "It's about representing this state. I recognize that it's a national body but I feel like the involvement needs to be heavier here."
Another voter said he initially supported Strange but changed his vote to Moore because of the attack ads mounted by Strange's allies in Washington. The ads targeted Brooks for his tepid endorsement of Trump in the Republican primaries last year. The SLF's ads steered clear of Moore until last week when they began attacking him for taking a salary from his nonprofit, the Foundation for Moral Law.
Attack ads from PACs have also targeted Strange for accepting the appointment to the Senate from Bentley, whom his office was investigating at the time for campaign finance violations and alleged public corruption.
Strange still has a strong base of support, as would be expected for an incumbent, even one who has only been in office for six months. Toddy Savage, a senior voter from Auburn, said she was voting for Strange.
"The ObamaCare situation and how that needs to be sorted out is really important to me," she said. Strange, in his few months in office, has consistently voted in support of Republican attempts to repeal and replace former President Obama's signature 2010 health care law. "It needs to get straightened out as soon as possible."
Trump has tweeted his support of Strange four times since his first online endorsement last week. The endorsement might turn away some, but in Alabama — where the vast majority of voters voted for the outsider president — the endorsement was highly sought.
"I think Strange is most on board with Trump," Savage said. "I just think we need unity. I don't think we need the division in the government that we have."
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Several voters said they were voting for Moore, a recurring face in Alabama politics who first rose to prominence when he was sued for hanging a Ten Commandments statue in his Etowah County courtroom in the 1990s. He later campaigned for chief justice as the "Ten Commandments judge." In 2003, he was removed from office after refusing to comply with a federal court order to remove a 2-ton granite Ten Commandments monument from the state's Supreme Court building.
He ran again for the same office in 2010 and won. But he was again removed from the office last year after refusing to comply with the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling. Despite his trouble staying in the state's chief judicial role, voters in Alabama still have a liking for him.
The same Cygnal poll showed Moore with the highest favorability rating of all the candidates. He was the only candidate that the majority of Republicans approved of, and in a hypothetical runoff between him and Strange, he would win.
Two voters who said they voted for Moore cited his religious convictions and his "honesty and integrity."
"Many people fought for me to be able to stand in this line and vote," said Kenya, a Republican primary voter who asked for her last name to be kept private. "It's no secret that I voted for Roy Moore because of his religious background. I don't care about him being put out of his position. I just care about what he stands for."