In Alabama Senate race, Trump takes on Republican anti-establishment

Sept 26 (Reuters) - Alabama voters will cast ballots on Tuesday for the Republican nominee to fill a U.S. Senate seat in a race that has pitted the party's leaders, including President Donald Trump, against its anti-establishment wing.

Senator Luther Strange, appointed in February to the seat left open when Jeff Sessions became U.S. attorney general, faces off against Roy Moore, an arch-conservative former state chief justice.

Moore finished ahead of Strange in last month's initial round of voting. But Trump endorsed Strange and appeared with him at a rally in Huntsville on Friday.

RELATED: Trump rallies in Alabama for Luther Strange

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Trump rallies in Alabama for Luther Strange
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Trump rallies in Alabama for Luther Strange
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Senator Luther Strange in Huntsville, Alabama, U.S. September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A handful of supporters of Judge Roy Moore look on as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Senator Luther Strange in Huntsville, Alabama, U.S. September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. President Donald Trump embraces Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) during a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, U.S. September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally for Senator Luther Strange at the Von Braun Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, U.S. September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry
Supporters cheer as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Senator Luther Strange in Huntsville, Alabama, U.S. September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
A Trump supporter gestures prior to President Donald Trump's appearance at a rally in support of Senator Luther Strange at the Von Braun Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, U.S., September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry
U.S. President Donald Trump greets Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) during a campaign rally in Huntsville, Alabama, U.S. September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally for Senator Luther Strange at the Von Braun Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, U.S. September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry
Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) wears a 'Make America Great Again' cap during his rally with US President Donald Trump at the Von Braun Civic Center on September 22, 2017 in Huntsville, Alabama. Trump is visiting the southern US state to endorse Luther Strange, a candidate for US Senate in the state's Republican primary. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump gestures while speaking during rally for Alabama state Republican Senator Luther Strange at the Von Braun Civic Center September 22, 2017 in Huntsville, Alabama. Trump is visiting the southern US state to endorse Luther Strange, a candidate for US Senate in the state's Republican primary. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People listen while US President Donald Trump speaks during rally for Alabama state Republican Senator Luther Strange at the Von Braun Civic Center September 22, 2017 in Huntsville, Alabama. Trump is visiting the southern US state to endorse Luther Strange, a candidate for US Senate in the state's Republican primary. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks during rally for Alabama state Republican Senator Luther Strange at the Von Braun Civic Center September 22, 2017 in Huntsville, Alabama. Trump is visiting the southern US state to endorse Luther Strange, a candidate for US Senate in the state's Republican primary. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Luther Strange has been shooting up in the Alabama polls since my endorsement," Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, without citing evidence. "Finish the job - vote today for 'Big Luther.'"

Moore has led in most public polls. Some surveys in the final days of the race showed his advantage narrowing, but a poll of likely voters taken by the Trafalgar Group over the weekend gave Moore a double-digit lead.

The group said the survey aimed to measure the impact of Trump's rally appearance for Strange, who is known as "Big Luther" due to his 6-foot-9 inch (2.06-meter) stature.

The president seemed acutely aware that the race's outcome would be seen as a test of his ability to motivate his base to vote for a party-backed incumbent, rather than a firebrand outsider.

"I'm taking a big risk because if Luther does not make it, they are going to go after me," said Trump, who also vowed to campaign for Moore if he beats Strange.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been one of Strange's most vocal backers, and a political action committee affiliated with McConnell has spent close to $9 million on advertisements in the race.

Trump's endorsement came as a surprise to political analysts, given the president's tense relationship with McConnell and Moore's status as the insurgent candidate.

The evangelical Moore has drawn support from a number of anti-establishment figures, including Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Trump's housing and urban development secretary, Ben Carson, also backed Moore.

RELATED: Roy Moore through the years

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Roy Moore through the years
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Roy Moore through the years
FILE PHOTO: Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore faces the media after being removed from office in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. November 13, 2003. REUTERS/Bob Ealum/File Photo
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 4: GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore, holding an article about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks during the U.S. Senate candidate forum held by the Shelby County Republican Party in Pelham, Ala., on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017. The former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is running in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 3: GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore speaks during a candidates' forum in Valley, Ala., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017. The former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is running in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 3: GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore speaks during a candidates' forum in Valley, Ala., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017. The former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is running in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 7: Suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to parishoners at The Church of the Apostles September 7, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia. Moore's Ten Commandments monument was recently removed from the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery, Alabama. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - AUGUST 16: Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore leaves a rally in support of a monument of the Ten Commandments August 16, 2003 in Montgomery, Alabama. Moore said Thursday that he will defy a federal judge's order to remove the monument from the state judicial building rotunda. (Photo by Gary Tramontina/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - AUGUST 25: Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore leaves a news conference at the State Judicial building August 25, 2003 in Montgomery, Alabama. Moore is currently suspened for not following a federal court order to remove his Ten Commandments monument from the building. (Photo by Gary Tramontina/Getty Images)
MONTGOMERY, AL - SEPTEMBER 26: Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, Roy Moore, greets guests after arriving at an election-night rally on September 26, 2017 in Montgomery, Alabama. Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama supreme court, is in a primary runoff contest against incumbent Luther Strange for the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions was appointed U.S. Attorney General by President Donald Trump. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FAIRHOPE, AL - SEPTEMBER 25: Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, Roy Moore, speaks at a campaign rally on September 25, 2017 in Fairhope, Alabama. Moore is running in a primary runoff election against incumbent Luther Strange for the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions was appointed U.S. Attorney General by President Donald Trump. The runoff election is scheduled for September 26. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 3: GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore speaks during a candidates' forum in Valley, Ala., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017. The former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is running in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 3: GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore arrives for the candidates' forum in Valley, Ala., on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017. The former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is running in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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Moore, 70, is best known for losing his position as the state's top judge twice, once for refusing a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse and a second time for defying the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

Strange, 64, served as Alabama attorney general under former Governor Robert Bentley, who left office in April amid a sex and ethics scandal. Some critics accused the governor of appointing Strange to the Senate to avoid further investigation.

Both candidates have praised Trump and vowed to support his agenda.

The winner on Tuesday will be favored in the December election against Democratic nominee Doug Jones. Alabama has not had a Democratic U.S. senator since 1997, and Trump carried the state by a margin of more than 25 percentage points in the presidential election last November. (Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Susan Thomas)

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