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Meet Roy Moore, the Front-Runner to Be Alabama’s Next Senator

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

WASHINGTON — The Republican runoff in Alabama’s Senate contest is two weeks away, and if the polls and conventional wisdom are right — and we know that’s not always the case — then Roy Moore is in the driver’s seat to become the state’s next U.S. senator.

Why is that a big deal? Because if he wins, the conservative firebrand could very well become a household name within months, and he’s likely to give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plenty of political headaches in the Senate.

Consider Moore’s history over the last two decades:

  • In 2001, as chief justice, Moore installed a 5,280-pound granite Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court — during the night, without telling his fellow justices. "I'm the highest legal authority in the state, and I wanted it there," he said of the decision. The move prompted the long legal battle that would result in his first removal from the court.
  • In 2002, he wrote an opinion in a child custody case stating that homosexuality is “an inherent evil,” and “abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God."
  • In November 2003, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary ousted Moore from office for refusing to follow a federal court order to remove the Ten Commandments monument. He remained unapologetic, saying “I'd do it all the same all over again.”
  • In 2012, Moore said at a Tea Party rally that same-sex marriage would be “the ultimate destruction of our country because it destroys the very foundation upon which this nation is based."
  • After a federal judge struck down Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban, Moore advises state probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the ruling.
  • In 2016, after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, Moore again issued an order directing state probate judges to continue enforcing the same-sex marriage ban in the state. As a result, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission suspended him from his post for the remainder of his term.
  • Earlier this year, Moore called Islam a “false religion” and said of Vladimir Putin’s views on gay rights: “Well, maybe Putin is right. Maybe he’s more akin to me than I know.”

And those are just some of the highlights. Moore’s runoff against appointed Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., takes place on Sept. 26. And the winner faces off against Democrat Doug Jones on Dec. 12.

It’s easier for someone like Moore to win a GOP primary in the Trump era than during the Bush era

Don’t forget, Moore has run for higher office in Alabama before — and got clobbered. When he ran for governor in 2006, incumbent Bob Riley bested him in the GOP primary by a 2-to-1 margin. Four years later, he came in FOURTH in the GOP gubernatorial primary, getting just 19 percent of the vote.

So given those past failures, why is Moore likely headed for success in two weeks? Here’s a theory: In the Trump era, it’s much easier for a controversial (and well-known) figure to win a GOP primary than during the Bush era (when “compassionate conservatism” was the mantra) or even the Tea Party era (when fiscal matters often overshadowed social ones).

Yes, Strange has his own set of problems stemming from his appointment to the job by an embattled governor, and Moore is benefitting from a set of political crosswinds that are pretty unique. But his rise still shows that, in the Trump era, the parameters of what’s politically palatable in the Republican Party aren’t where they used to be.

It’s primary day in New York’s mayoral race

Speaking of primaries, New York City today holds its Democratic and Republican races for mayor. “New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio faces a crowded primary field, but no challengers with his organizing power or financial muscle, as he seeks a second term as the leader of the country's largest city,” the AP writes. “De Blasio is one of five Democrats running in Tuesday's primary. He's considered the favorite against Sal Albanese, Richard Bashner, Robert Gangi and Michael Tolkin.”

Trump legal team saw Kushner as liability: report 12:03

Make it three GOP retirements in less than a week

Another day, another House Republican congressman saying he won’t run for re-election in 2018 – this time, Rep. Dave Trott, R-Mich., who announced his decision on Monday.

The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman: “In a wave election, Michigan's 11th CD is exactly the kind of seat Democrats need to flip to win House control. In 2011, GOP legislators carefully drew it to take in the most Republican inner suburbs of Detroit and exclude the heavily Democratic city of Pontiac. In 2016, it voted for President Trump 49 percent to 45 percent. However, it's also the most college-educated seat in the state and the only one where Trump's margin failed to improve from Mitt Romney's in 2012.”

The Cook Political Report moved the race from “Likely Republican” to “Toss Up.”

WSJ: Some Trump lawyers wanted Jared Kushner to step down

Here’s the latest scoop in the Russia-investigation story: “Some of President Donald Trump's lawyers earlier this summer concluded that Jared Kushner should step down as senior White House adviser because of possible legal complications related to a probe of Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election and aired concerns about him to the president, people familiar with the matter said,” the Wall Street Journal says.

More from the paper: “Among their concerns was that Mr. Kushner was the adviser closest to the president who had the most dealings with Russian officials and businesspeople during the campaign and transition, some of which are currently being examined by federal investigators and congressional oversight panels. Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump's son-in-law and confidant, has said he had four such meetings or interactions.”

Ty Cobb, President Trump's special counsel at the White House, calls this WSJ story "completely false," saying, "Jared Kushner is one of the President's most trusted, able and intelligent advisers," per NBC’s Kristen Welker.

But the man who heads Trump’s legal team — John Dowd — pretty much confirmed to The Journal that there were lawyers who recommended that Kushner step down. "I didn't agree with that view at all. I thought it was absurd," Dowd told the paper. "I made my views known."

Trump holds bipartisan dinner at White House

At 6:30 pm ET, Trump holds what the White House is billing as a “Bipartisan Senators Dinner.” Per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor and Frank Thorp, three Senate Democrats will be in attendance — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. (All three are up for re-election in 2018, and they all represent states Trump easily won in 2016.) Two of the GOP attendees will be Orrin Hatch of Utah and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Sotomayor and Thorp add.