Alabama Senate Race, Unlikely Nail Biter, Races to Finish Line
Posted December 11, 2017 2:56 p.m. EST
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In a blur of television ads, conflicting polls and presidential tweets, Doug Jones and Roy Moore raced Monday to make their final pleas in Alabama’s special election for the Senate, with both candidates focused on turning out their party’s most loyal voters.
The trajectory of the campaign has grown cloudier, rather than clearer, with the approach of Election Day. Moore, a Republican former judge, and Jones, a former prosecutor who is the Democratic nominee, have seesawed in the polls. Strategists on both sides acknowledge that it is exceptionally difficult to predict who will show up in an unusual December vote.
With turnout a giant question mark, Jones has put his focus in the homestretch overwhelmingly on energizing African-American voters. After rallying with prominent black Democrats over the weekend, including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, Jones was scheduled to appear Monday in the state’s two biggest cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, which both have black majorities.
Campaigning Monday morning at a Birmingham diner, where reporters and photographers vastly outnumbered patrons, Jones tried to balance his get-out-the-vote appeals to Democrats with outreach to Republicans. He held up Sen. Richard C. Shelby’s eyebrow-raising interview on CNN over the weekend, in which Shelby, dean of the state’s congressional delegation, denounced Moore and said Alabama “deserves better.”
“The people of the state, they have elected Richard Shelby for four decades,” Jones said. “They’re going to listen to Richard Shelby.”
Shelby, who has said he would write in an unnamed Republican rather than vote for Moore, is one of the few elected Republican officials in the state to openly abandon their party’s embattled Senate nominee.
Jones was less voluble when it came to another last-minute turnout tactic: an automated phone call that former President Barack Obama recorded for his campaign. Jones’ advisers were deciding Monday whether to deploy the message to help mobilize Democrats. Jones appeared unenthusiastic about highlighting the involvement of an out-of-state figure who is locally polarizing.
“I know that there have been a lot of robocalls that have been recorded — I don’t know what’s being used,” Jones insisted.
The tight race is all the more extraordinary by the standards of Alabama, where no Democrat has won an election for Senate or governor in almost 20 years. A Fox News poll published Monday found Jones with a 10-point lead over Moore, but other recent polling has found Moore ahead, and private Democratic polling shows a closer race.
Still, Republicans and Democrats agree on the basic dynamics of the campaign: If Jones can turn out young people and African-Americans, and peel away a chunk of Republican-leaning whites — particularly women — who recoil from Moore, then he has a chance to win. Otherwise, the state’s conservative DNA is likely to kick in and rescue Moore from tribulations of his own making.
The Republican candidate has not held a campaign event in a week, and has only infrequently appeared in public since a series of women came forward to allege that he had pursued them sexually while they were young teenagers.
Moore was scheduled to emerge from his relative seclusion Monday evening, with a rally in Midland City, a town of a few thousand people in the state’s rural southeastern corner. If Jones manages to run up a significant lead in the state’s urban and suburban areas, Moore will be counting on stronger turnout from his largely evangelical base in smaller communities.
Moore’s rally appears aimed at driving those voters to the polls. He is scheduled to appear alongside Stephen Bannon, the former aide to President Donald Trump, and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas. Both are well known to activists, largely through their prominence in conservative media, though neither has close ties to Alabama.
Should Moore prevail Tuesday, it will probably be the backing of a different out-of-state supporter — Trump himself — that was most influential in the last days of the race. While Trump has not visited Alabama, he has repeatedly taken to Twitter in support of Moore and recorded an automated phone message that was going out to Republican voters.
Trump provided Moore with a crucial seal of approval among conservatives at a moment of crisis for his campaign, effectively offering reassurance to Republicans who were uneasy about Moore’s scandals that it was acceptable to vote for him. At a rally Friday just over the border in Florida, Trump hailed Moore as critical to enacting a “'Make America Great Again’ agenda” in the Senate. (STORY CAN END HERE. OPTIONAL MATERIAL FOLLOWS.) But Moore, for his part, has plainly struggled to deliver such a pointed closing message, and the most visible public remarks from Moore and his campaign have been focused in the main on denying allegations of sexual misconduct.
The charges against Moore broke into the headlines again Monday morning, when one of the women whom he is said to have dated as a teenager, Debbie Wesson Gibson, rebuked him in an interview with NBC News. “He is unfit for public service, at the Senate level, in this nation,” Wesson Gibson said of Moore, describing him as a “creeper.”
Moore has continued to maintain that he did not date teenagers when he was in his 30s, and has denied sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl.
On Monday morning, Jones ridiculed Moore for effectively going underground at the most intense moment in the race. He mockingly alluded to reports that Moore attended the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.
“Here I am once again, surrounded by this gaggle, which I’ve come to love and enjoy, while Roy Moore was not even in the state of Alabama over this weekend,” Jones said, adding: “When is the last time you’ve heard of a candidate for statewide office leave the state?”