President Donald Trump traveled south Friday night to urge Alabamians to vote for Sen. Luther Strange in next week’s Senate Republican primary runoff. But he said he would campaign for Strange’s opponent if Strange loses.
Strange, who was appointed to the seat, faces former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore on Tuesday to serve out the rest of former Sen. Jeff Sessions’ term. Sessions is now Trump’s attorney general. Moore has been leading in public polls, and Strange’s allies hoped Trump’s visit to the state could boost turnout in the senator’s favor.
“Both good men,” Trump told the crowd at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama. “And I told Luther I have to say this, if his opponent wins, I’m going to be here campaigning like hell for him.”
Some of Trump’s former advisers, including Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, have backed Moore. Ben Carson, Trump’s Housing and Urban Development secretary, also praised Moore on Friday.
Trump argued Friday that Moore had less of a chance of winning the general election, which is why Strange should be the GOP nominee. The winner of Tuesday’s runoff will face Democrat Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 general election.
The president signaled that his own reputation was on the line in the GOP contest because of his endorsement.
“If Luther doesn’t make it, they’re going to go after me, Luther,” Trump said, pointing to the media television cameras.
Trump lauded Strange as a loyal ally in the Senate.
To make that case, he revealed that Strange was originally against the GOP health care proposals that failed in the Senate over the summer.
The president described making phone calls to GOP senators who were against the plans to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law. He said senators asked for dinners and favors in return for “yes” votes (which Trump described as “brutality”).
But Trump said he had a different experience when he phoned Strange.
“I’ve got to get your vote on health care,” Trump recalled telling the Alabama Republican. “He says, ‘You’ve got it.’”
Trump said Strange did not ask for any favors but said, “If you want my vote, you have it.”
“That’s the coolest thing that’s happened to me in six months,” the president said.
Strange’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on whether the senator originally opposed the GOP plans.
Trump also told the crowd that Strange did not know Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, combating some criticism that Strange is supported by the Washington, D.C., establishment. A super PAC allied with McConnell has spent millions of dollars on the race on Strange’s behalf.
At the rally, Strange also invoked McConnell by name, saying Trump needs help to stand up to the majority leader and other Republicans blocking his agenda.
“Your vote for me on Tuesday will send a message,” said Strange, donning a red “Make America Great Again” hat. “It will send a message to the establishment in Washington, D.C. that Alabama stands by its president.”
Trump veered off script several times throughout the speech, discussing a transparent wall for the southern border, the nuclear standoff with North Korea, Russian interference in the 2016 election, professional football players protesting police brutality during the national anthem, and a tax overhaul.
Vice President Mike Pence will also be in Alabama on Monday to support Strange.