Mr. Moore mocked Mr. Strange’s grasping of the president’s coattails, accusing him of offering a one-note message and even being a tad obsessive.
“I can’t tell you what the president thinks, I can’t tell you every move he makes, when he goes to the bathroom and when he doesn’t,” Mr. Moore shot back after Mr. Strange claimed that Mr. Trump had noticed the former judge’s apparent unfamiliarity with the Obama-era immigration program known as DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Mr. Moore won laughs for that riposte, but he was put in a more difficult position after claiming that Mr. Trump “is being cut off in his office.” He also said the president is “being redirected by people like McConnell, who does not support his agenda,” referring to Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the Senate majority leader.
Mr. Strange quickly fired back that it was “insulting to the president” to suggest he was “being manipulated.”
The two Republicans appeared side by side for just over an hour in the Alabama capital city with only a timekeeper between them. They delivered opening and closing statements, and for the bulk of the debate took turns speaking five minutes apiece. That each campaign would agree to such a risky, moderator-free format so close to a high-stakes election was remarkable, and many believed one or the other would eventually find a reason to back out of the forum.
The game of political chicken began when Mr. Moore challenged Mr. Strange to what Mr. Moore called a “mano a mano” showdown, perhaps thinking that the incumbent would not take him up on his dare. But Mr. Strange, needing to make up ground, saw an opportunity to trumpet his ties to Mr. Trump.
And for the underfunded Mr. Moore, who won fame after he was removed from the judicial bench for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the lobby of the state Supreme Court, the forum provided a chance to assail Mr. Strange on a range of issues before a dozen television cameras and even more reporters.
Complaining about the multimillion-dollar advertising assault against him from Mr. McConnell’s allies, Mr. Moore, acting as if he were the one trailing in the polls, uncorked a series of attacks against Mr. Strange.
Reading from opposition research on his lectern, Mr. Moore targeted Mr. Strange for his career as a Washington lobbyist, noting that he once owned a pricey condominium on Pennsylvania Avenue. He noted that Mr. Strange had only recently criticized the Senate filibuster rule. And he sounded a populist note by contrasting his youth without a bathroom to the senator’s roots in Mountain Brook, a wealthy Birmingham suburb that for decades has been used in Alabama campaigns as a symbol for elitists who are out of touch with the rest of the state.
Mr. Moore’s harshest attack may have been over how Mr. Strange found his way to the Senate. He suggested that Mr. Strange, who was state attorney general when he was appointed to the Senate, was part of a corrupt bargain with former Gov. Robert Bentley, who was driven from office over an apparent extramarital affair.
Mr. Moore said Mr. Strange would “do anything to get his job.”
“That’s called a lack of character,” Mr. Moore added.
Mr. Strange did not reply directly to the broadsides during the debate. Addressing reporters afterward, he also dodged a question about whether he had been investigating Mr. Bentley’s conduct when he was appointed.
Standing just down the hill from the State Capitol, Mr. Strange could not fully escape Mr. Bentley’s shadow.
“Answer it, Luther!” demanded Jim Zeigler, Alabama’s state auditor, who crashed the news conference in a fitting conclusion to the feisty evening.
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