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FILE PHOTO: Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) looks on during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo - RTS1BVG3

What to watch in Alabama’s special election

If you cast a vote in Alabama today, congratulations on being one of the most influential voters in America. That’s because initial reports indicate that turnout has been very low, even “dismal” in the closely-watched primary for what used to be Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ U.S. Senate seat.

The winner of the GOP primary in bright-red Alabama is nearly guaranteed entry into what was once known as “the most exclusive club.” Democrats will mount a challenge in the special election, but in a state that voted for President Donald Trump by a 28-point margin, they are at a marked disadvantage.

Brian Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser talks with PBS NewsHour’s John Yang about why the Alabama Republican primary is a test of GOP loyalty to Trump.

Who are the GOP candidates? A total of nine Alabamians are in the race, but the focus is on three well-known frontrunners:

1. Luther Strange, the current occupant of the seat. Strange was appointed to temporarily fill Sessions’ seat by the state’s governor. He is a former state attorney general.

2. Roy Moore, a lightning rod former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Moore ordered local courts not to certify same-sex marriages despite the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision legalizing them.

3. Rep. Mo Brooks, a conservative member of the House of Representatives and an outspoken member of the chamber’s Freedom Caucus.

What makes this primary extra special? It is testing the Republican Party in a core-constituent state. Strange has the endorsement of Mr. Trump, but his opponents have tried to tie him closely with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and brand him as an establishment politician. In most Republican crowds, Brooks would be considered among the most conservative candidates. But in this race, Moore may outflank him, given the former chief justice’s conservative zeal on social issues like allowing religion in public places and opposing same-sex marriage.

Under Alabama rules, if no candidate gets a majority of the vote today, the primary goes to a runoff. Strange is hoping that will leave him to fight Moore one-on-one. But watch tonight to see if low turnout leads to a surprise outright win by Moore.

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