Conservative firebrand Roy Moore won the Republican nomination Tuesday in a closely watched U.S. Senate primary race in Alabama, delivering a blow to President Donald Trump and other party leaders who viewed opponent Luther Strange as the preferred candidate to advance Trump's agenda in Congress.
Moore, a former Alabama chief justice who was twice removed from the state Supreme Court bench for disobeying judicial orders, campaigned on an anti-Washington platform and is known for unsuccessfully pushing for the public display of the Ten Commandments and opposing gay marriage.
He defeated Strange, an establishment-backed Republican who trailed Moore in the polls, by a 55-percent to 45-percent margin.
Trump endorsed Strange, who was appointed to the vacated Senate seat when Jeff Sessions became U.S. attorney general. Moore was also supported by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is linked to a super political action committee that injected millions of dollars into Strange's campaign amid Republican concern Moore would be a disruptive force in the Senate, or possibly lose to Democrat Doug Jones.
After Strange conceded defeat Tuesday, Trump and McConnell quickly congratulated Moore, emphasizing their desire to keep the seat under Republican control. On Twitter, Trump posted a message hailing Moore's convincing win.
"Luther Strange started way back & ran a good race. Roy, WIN in Dec!"
Trump appeared to delete three tweets in support for Strange after his loss. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for an explanation.
"Luther Strange has been shooting up in the polls since my endorsement," one of Trump's tweets read before being deleted. "Finish the job - vote for big Luther."
The president appeared to have deleted another tweet urging Alabama voters to vote for Strange. "ALABAMA, get out and vote for Luther Strange - he has proven that he will never let you down! #MAGA".
While Moore's win is a setback for Trump, it could be more consequential for Mitchell. Moore has vowed to be a disruptive force who will challenge Mitchell's Senate leadership. Moore has even called on Mitchell to step aside as Senate Majority Leader.
Like Strange, Moore also had high-profile support during the campaign, led by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and his conservative website Breitbart News. He also had the backing of former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Brexit leader Nigel Farage.
Bannon said Moore's win was also a victory for Trump. "Who is sovereign, the people or the money? Alabama answered today," Bannon said.
Moore is currently the frontrunner to win the Senate seat over Jones, a former U.S. attorney in Alabama, in the December 12 general election. Yet Democrats have not committed to help finance Jones' campaign, although Trump and other Republicans have expressed unease that Moore may be susceptible to defeat in the upcoming election.
"The people of Alabama deserve a senator who will put aside partisan rancor," Jones said after Moore's win.