OXFORD — As former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore runs for U.S. Senate, he doesn't shrink from telling voters he has twice been ousted from the bench for defying federal courts over the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage.
Instead, he wears those rejections as a badge of honor.
Moore tells Republican voters in the blood-red state that they are akin to battle scars for standing up for what he believes.
"I will not only say what is right, I will do what is right," Moore said during a June forum in the east Alabama city of Oxford.
The fiery, outspoken jurist is part of a crowded GOP field vying to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions' old seat in the U.S. Senate. Moore's iconic status in the culture wars gives him a strong GOP voter base and makes him a leading contender in the Aug. 15 primary.
But he's also a polarizing figure. Some voters said they are voting for him because of his past fights. Others said they want someone else for the same reasons. Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen, who filed the complaint that led to Moore's removal, last year referred to him as the "Ayatollah of Alabama" for intertwining his personal religious beliefs and judicial responsibilities.
Incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, appointed last year by the state's former governor and backed by Republican establishment, faces multiple challengers. Among them, in addition to Moore, is U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus who has the endorsement of well-known conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. The race could lead to a runoff between the top two primary finishers.
The Senate Leadership Fund, which has ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and tries to bank candidates perceived as winnable in general elections, has put its fiscal force behind Strange. The Republican National Committee last week authorized its Senate campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to spend $350,000 on the Alabama Senate race, money that is expected to benefit Strange.
Moore is a West Point graduate and former military policeman during Vietnam. He became a prosecutor, circuit judge and then state chief justice.
But Alabama's judicial discipline panel twice stripped him of his chief justice duties. In 2003 he was removed for disobeying a federal judge's order to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse.
He re-took the chief justice's office in 2012, but was suspended for the remainder of his term last year. The suspension -- not, technically, a removal -- came after Moore wrote a memo telling probate judges that they remained under a state court order to deny marriage licenses to gay couples even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gays and lesbians have a fundamental right to marry. While he was suspended, Moore left the bench to run for Senate.
"I stood up to same-sex marriage legally by pointing out active injunctions. They didn't like that. I opposed the agenda of the Supreme Court, and they came after me," Moore said in Oxford.
Thirty-nine-year-old Emily Holland said she admires Moore. "He goes by what the Bible says," said Holland. "He has been to war. He refused to take down the Ten Commandments."
Jean Hobson said she watched the Oxford debate to learn more about the other candidates, but knows she's not voting for Strange or Moore.
"Judge Moore has been elected twice and thrown out twice," Hobson said.
Moore also discusses other issues on the campaign trail -- including a call for increased military spending -- but it's his well-known history that appears to be driving both his support and his opposition.
For now, "The Judge," as Moore is nicknamed, revels in his outsider status in a year of anti-Washington sentiment.
"Washington doesn't want me, evidently, from the money they are pouring behind one of the candidates and from the message we received from Washington. That's OK," Moore said with a slight grin as he removed his sunglasses during a sweltering June campaign stop on the Alabama Capitol steps. "I'm looking forward to going and representing the people of Alabama, what they stand for. What they believe in is what I believe in and I'll take it to Washington whether they like it or they don't."