Anti-gay Alabama judge Roy Moore is running for Senate — and he could actually win

Twice removed from Alabama's supreme court, the Christian nationalist judge could actually become a U.S. senator

By Matthew Sheffield

Published May 5, 2017 6:45PM (EDT)

 (AP/Brynn Anderson)
(AP/Brynn Anderson)

Roy Moore, the perpetually aggrieved Alabama judge who was recently removed from the state's top court after he told state employees to refuse to marry same-sex couples, has now decided to run for a U.S. Senate seat.

And he might actually have a chance.

This isn't the first time that Moore has sought the Republican nomination for a lawmaking position in the state. After he was removed from the state's supreme court the first time for refusing to relocate a Ten Commandments statue that he had placed in the courtroom, Moore ran for Alabama governor in 2006 and also 2009. He won re-election to the court in 2012.

Despite his earlier gubernatorial losses, Moore's 2017 bid in the race to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a key difference from his previous campaigns, the race is a special election. Typically, such contests feature very low voter turnout.

As a highly controversial figure, Moore has many critics in the state but he also has attracted a number of very devoted supporters. In low-turnout elections, candidates with a small but dedicated voter base oftentimes are able to defeat more popular candidates who have shallow support.

This dynamic was one reason why President Donald Trump was able to win the Republican presidential race despite averaging about 40 percent of the vote in most state primaries.

"One of the most interesting aspects about Moore's candidacy is that he likely possesses the highest vote floor and lowest ceiling at the same time," Cameron Smith, a columnist for, wrote earlier this week.

Moore is already using the same Trumpian grievance formula in his current campaign.

“I did nothing wrong under the canons, I did nothing wrong legally, I did everything according to the law, but of course if you speak up today you’re going to suffer persecution,” he told Christian nationalist radio host Sandy Rios in a May 1 interview. Moore also received the endorsement of a top editor of Conservative Review, a website for activists who think the GOP is too far to the left.

The fiercely anti-gay judge's hardcore fan base almost guarantees him a top-two spot in the upcoming Aug. 15 Republican primary.

If he can get past 50 percent of the vote, Moore will automatically become the GOP nominee. That would make him the heavy favorite in the Dec. 12 general election given how weak Democrats are in Alabama. They didn't even bother to field an opponent against Sessions when he was re-elected in 2014.

Should Moore be unable to earn a majority in the primary, he would have to win a runoff race that is currently scheduled for Sept. 26.

While most business-friendly Republicans are unlikely to donate to Moore's campaign, he likely will be able to count on funds from Michael Peroutka, a fellow Christian nationalist donor who has showered pro-Confederate Republicans and third-party candidates with cash for decades. A former member of the League of the South, Peroutka has bankrolled two non-profit organizations founded by Moore. He was also the largest donor to Moore's 2012 Supreme Court run.

Faced with the prospect of Moore being sworn into the U.S. Senate, Alabama's Republicans might have to reach out to Democrats in order to stop him in the GOP primary. Mississippi's GOP establishment did just that in 2014 when it asked black Democrats to block the nomination of Chris McDaniel, an insurgent candidate who was also widely regarded as an extremist.

Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via or follow him on Twitter.

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Alabama Alabama Senate Race Gay Rights Jeff Sessions Roy Moore