PoliZette

How Doug Jones Shocked Alabama Republicans

Against an embattled Roy Moore, Democrat piled up massive margins in urban counties to claim Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Democrat Doug Jones stunned this bright red state Tuesday night, defeating embattled Republican Roy Moore in a closely watched special election to finish the Senate term of Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become attorney general in the Trump administration. Moore, however — as of just before midnight — refused to concede.

Jones, a former U.S. attorney under President Bill Clinton, apparently won by rolling up big margins in traditionally Democratic areas of the state and its large urban counties. He also was able to cut into the advantage that Republicans typically enjoy in suburban areas — thanks to multiple allegations against Moore for improper behavior toward teenage girls and young women conduct 40 years ago.

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That seemed enough to offset Moore’s strength in white, rural Alabama — especially in the northern part of the state. Doug Jones now becomes the first Democrat to win a statewide race in Alabama since 2006 and the first to win a Senate seat since Richard Shelby won re-election in 1992.

In that year, Richard Shelby won all but one county — while Republican George H.W. Bush carried the state in the presidential election — in a sign of how much Alabama has changed in 25 years. Shelby switched parties in 1994.

The Moore campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, noted that military ballots had not even been counted yet and that state law calls for an automatic recount if the final margin is within a half-percentage point.

“It is not over,” Moore told supporters at about 11:30 p.m. “We still got to go by the rules with this recount … We also know that God is always in control.”

Said Jones on Tuesday night after he was declared winner, “I have always believed the people of Alabama have more in common than [what] divides us. We have shown the country the way, that we could be unified.” He added, “I have the greatest political strategist in Joe Trippe,” Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign manager, now a Fox News political analyst.

The Democratic win reduces the GOP majority in the Senate to 51-49 and further complicates Republican efforts to advance President Donald Trump’s agenda.

The Democratic win, if it holds, reduces the GOP majority in the Senate to 51-49 and further complicates Republican efforts to advance President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Ohio conservative activist Janet Porter, founder of the anti-abortion group Faith2Action, declared Moore the victor long before the votes had been tallied.

“They dare defend their right to life, their right to liberty … This is America,” she said. “This is America. And the people of Alabama are going to stand with President Trump.”

Porter spoke prematurely.

Jones, known for his successful prosecution of two men involved in the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963, which killed four young black girls, tried to depict himself as a moderate. His support for extreme abortion rights and some gun restrictions, however, put him on the liberal side of the state’s politics.

But his opponent, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, is a singularly polarizing figure in Alabama politics. Moore’s fervent supporters admire his hardcore social conservatism and his long history of standing up for Christian values — even if it runs afoul of the federal judiciary.

Moore’s defiance of a federal judge’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building got him removed from office during his first stint as the state’s top judge. After a comeback in 2012, Moore again defied a federal judge — this time over her ruling striking down Alabama’s ban on gay marriage.

Moore instructed probate judges to follow state law, not the federal courts. That led to his suspension as chief justice.

That history of controversy already had Democrats dreaming about an upset in the Senate race. And then The Washington Post last month published a story quoting a woman accusing Moore of making a sexual advance toward her in the 1970s, when she was 14 and he was 32. Three other women said Moore showed a romantic interest in them during the same time period, when they were barely older than the legal age of consent.

On top of that, Jones outraised and outspent Roy Moore by millions of dollars.

Former Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors, appearing on “The Ingraham Angle” as Tuesday’s votes were counted, attributed Moore’s loss to inaction by a Republican-controlled Congress.

Related: Anecdotal Evidence Points to Heavy Alabama Turnout

“If you go to any watering hole in suburban Alabama or rural Alabama, everybody is very, very angry at Washington and they are blaming Republicans, which is the rise of Roy Moore in this race,” he said. “Had tax reform had been passed two or three months ago, this would not have been an issue. If Obamacare had been repealed, this would not have been an issue.”

Exit polls suggested, however, that the allegations had only served to harden the positions on both sides. Six in 10 voters said they already had made up their mind before The Post published its first story. Some 86 percent of Moore voters said they did not believe the allegations, while 89 percent of Jones voters did.

Jones got a big turnout among African-American voters in the impoverished rural counties in the lower third of the state known as the Black Belt, so named for the color of the rich soil that once made them agricultural powerhouses. He also outperformed the vote percentages put up in the most populous counties by Democrat Robert Vance in his close-but-no-cigar race against Moore in 2012 for Supreme Court chief justice.

“If they are able to take out a Senate candidate in Alabama with these allegations, as lurid as they were, what does this mean for the umpteen number of Democrats who will inevitably come forward to urge the president to resign?” said Laura Ingraham, host of “The Ingraham Angle.”

The results will further complicate Trump’s ability to win victories for his congressional agenda beginning in January 2018, after Jones is sworn in — as well as heighten pressures on the chief executive to resign.

“If they are able to take out a Senate candidate in Alabama with these allegations, as lurid as they were, what does this mean for the umpteen number of Democrats who will inevitably come forward to urge the president to resign?” said Laura Ingraham, host of “The Ingraham Angle.”

“The constant re-airing of the old allegations that aired last October — October 26 — and putting this pressure on the war on women redux … I think we see this all the way through 2018,” she said during the first moments of analysis in the minutes after Jones was declared winner.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.