Voters stayed home in droves in today's special Senate election runoff, belying the intensity of the campaign advertising.

The race pitted Republicans U.S. Sen. Luther Strange against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. It was viewed nationally as much a referendum on President Donald Trump, who backed Strange, and the president's former adviser, Steve Bannon, who campaigned for Moore, as an election to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, who is now attorney general.

Moore, twice removed from office for failing to obey a higher court's ruling, got off to an early lead and didn't look back. Though he'll face re-election in a year, he promises to cut a colorful swath in the Senate.

"Roy Moore could potentially be the most interesting character in the United States Senate since Huey P. Long in the 1930s," said Jess Brown, a retired political science and history professor at Athens State University.

Long was an outspoken populist from Louisiana who was assassinated in 1935.

"I don't think he'll be policy effective, but on social issues, he could well put national Republicans in a box," Brown said. "He could frame some of those social issues in a way to pressure other Republicans to say, 'me too.'

"The national Republicans will support him, even if they have to grind the enamel off their teeth."

Moore will face Democrat Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 general election.

Bill Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, said voters were in a protest state of mind, and Moore is adept at protesting what he doesn't like.

"Moore is a better speaker, he has better charismatic appeal," he said. "Luther Strange spent many years lobbying for his clients in Washington. That's not very popular with voters today, that you owe much of your success lobbying for special interests."

Robert Palmer may be reached at 256-740-5720, or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com. Follow on Twitter @TD_RobertPalmer.

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