MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — President Donald Trump's tweet endorsing Luther Strange is welcome news for the recently appointed senator, but it's shaking up Alabama's contentious GOP primary, where all the major candidates have tried to lay claim to Trump's message of disruptive change.
"Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!" Trump tweeted Tuesday night, inserting himself into a slugfest primary for the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Strange's leading opponents are Roy Moore, who was twice removed as Alabama's chief justice, and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Brooks said Wednesday that he's more aligned with Trump's agenda than Strange, the candidate of a Washington "swamp" establishment who gets his support from a super political action committee tied to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"I respect President Trump, but I am baffled and disappointed Mitch McConnell and the Swamp somehow misled the President into endorsing Luther Strange," Brooks' statement said.
Brooks said perhaps the president is unaware that Strange was appointed by a scandal-battered governor and that he, and not Strange, supports Trump's idea of changing Senate filibuster rules, which Democrats have used to kill proposals lacking bipartisan support.
The endorsement is a welcome boost for the Strange campaign, as all of the top Republican contenders in the Aug. 15 primary have openly tried to woo Trump voters in the state where Trump continues to enjoy heavy popularity.
Strange, who called Trump's election a "Biblical miracle," said he's honored by the president's support.
"President Trump's election and hard work has given millions of people hope again and I'm proud to stand beside him to make America great again," Strange said in a statement Tuesday evening.
The Senate Leadership Fund linked to McConnell has spent heavily on advertising to fend off firebrand challengers to Strange, including ads that remind voters of how Brook criticized Trump when he chaired Sen. Ted Cruz's presidential campaign.
However, the blitz has been unable to remove an air of unpredictability from this special election. Moore, who was twice removed from duties as chief justice for defying courts on gay marriage and putting a Ten Commandments statue on public display, is strongly supported by some evangelical voters.
Moore said Wednesday it "remains to be seen" what impact the presidential endorsement will have.
"People are not voting for President Trump. The people are voting for his agenda, that I firmly believe in," Moore said.
Randy Brinson, a Montgomery physician also seeking the GOP nomination, echoed that, saying Alabama voters want someone who will fulfill the message of change.