Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and outspoken evangelical Christian, beat the Donald Trump-backed sitting candidate in the Alabama Republican primary election last night.
Moore won notoriety as a judge in 2003 for refusing to dismantle a granite monument to the Ten Commandments he had installed in the grounds of the state courthouse. He also refused to implement the US supreme court ruling legalising gay marriage. He was removed from office in both cases.
With 95 per cent of the vote counted last night, Moore was on course to receive around 55 per cent of the vote to incumbent Luther Strange's 45 per cent. Strange has occupied the seat since January after Jeff Sessions left the post to become US Attorney General.
The election seemingly exposed a divide between the Republican party's conservative base and its traditional establishment – and among those close to the President himself.
Moore drew support from fellow Christian conservative Sarah Palin and Steve Bannon, the recently-dismissed White House chief strategist. However, Strange had the public support of President Trump who, together with Vice President Mike Pence, appeared alongside him at recent rallies and asked his supporters to vote for Strange.
Strange was also the better-funded candidate, receiving 10 times as much funding as Moore. The Senate Leadership Fund, a political group associated with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, spent close to $9 million to support Strange's candidacy on McConnell's behalf.
Since Moore's victory, however, Trump has tweeted his support for Moore in the December general elections. According to Associated Press, the Senate Leadership Fund President and CEO Steven Law has also promised financial support for Moore's candidacy 'as it is vital that we keep this seat in Republican hands'.
Moore is now considered the overwhelming favourite in December's general election against the Democrat candidate, Doug Jones. Alabama has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992.
Moore positioned himself as the anti-establishment candidate, making an anti- anti-Washington message central to his platform. This accords with his past record of being dismissed from his position as chief justice in Alabama for twice defying rulings from Supreme Court.
In the first instance, in 2003, he refused to dismantle a granite monument of the Ten Commandments that he had installed in the state courthouse. His second dismissal came after winning the election in 2012 for refusing to implement the US supreme court ruling which legalised gay marriage.
Moore's views about the role of religion in public life were also fundamental to his campaign. 'We have to return the knowledge of God and the Constitution of the United States to the United States Congress,' he said in his victory speech.
Bannon predicted that Moore would be the first of many grassroots candidates triumphing over well-funded Republican incumbents. According to Associated Press, he said at Moore's victory party: 'You're going to see in state after state people that follow the model of Judge Roy Moore, that do not need to raise money from the elites'.
For Strange, his defeat was symptomatic of a new, unstable political environment: 'We're dealing with a political environment that I've never had any experience with,' he said. 'I'm telling you, the political seas and winds in this country right now...are very hard to navigate, very hard to understand.'