A nation watches on eve of toxic Alabama Senate election
Ivan Couronne – The US Senate race wrenching Alabama and testing the Republican Party’s character neared its tumultuous conclusion Monday, with President Donald Trump urging loyalists to elect Roy Moore despite accusations he molested minors decades ago.
Voters in this traditionally conservative southern state will take to the polls Tuesday to pick their newest senator, to replace Jeff Sessions who was named US attorney general earlier this year.
“I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore,” Trump said in a robocall to voters that began Sunday, declaring the candidate would help stop illegal immigration, rebuild a stronger military and protect pro-life values.
“But if Alabama elects liberal Democrat Doug Jones, all of our progress will be stopped full.”
Until recently it had been unimaginable for a Republican to lose statewide election in Alabama, which Trump carried handily and which has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992.
But Moore is unlike just about any Republican. Polls show he no longer enjoys the commanding advantage he held before the Washington Post published the first of multiple accusations by women who claim Moore sexually molested or pursued them when they were in their teens and he was a state attorney in his thirties.
Moore, now 70, denies all the allegations.
“I never molested anyone,” Moore declared in a local interview published Sunday. “I don’t know why they’re saying it, but it’s not true.”
Moore has twice been elected chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, and twice dismissed from the post, first in 2003 for refusing an order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the court house.
In 2016, he defied the US Supreme Court by refusing to apply its decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
Some in the Republican establishment have sought to distance themselves from Moore, and as a signal of the lack of enthusiasm, pro-Moore campaign signs outside residents’ homes are seldom seen. But with Republicans clinging to a razor thin majority in the US Senate, Trump – after weeks of stalling – has given Moore his political blessing. It’s a pragmatic alliance between the president’s economic populism and Moore’s religious activism.
Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist who proclaimed himself the guardian of the Trump revolution, will be appearing alongside Moore at a final rally Monday night.
For the Republican majority in Washington, the election is a loser in every way. Should Moore prevail, party leaders fear being soiled by association. Should he lose, their thin Senate majority of 52 out of 100 seats will shrink to 51, allowing Trump virtually no room for maneuver against hostile Democrats.
Across Alabama, which has not received this much political attention in decades, the Moore case dominates all conversation. The man is a political and social lightning rod.
“He is the type of figure that thrives on having conflict, that thrives on staking out his position, almost like a crusader type,” Andrew Yeager, a WBHM local radio host, told AFP.
“The way you see the allegations depends a lot on what you think of Roy Moore.”
Jones, the Democrat in the race, is a 63-year-old former federal prosecutor known for having convicted two Ku Klux Klan members for bombing a black church in Birmingham, killing four African-American girls.
He has increased his campaign events in the hopes of mobilizing his Democratic base which is largely black.
“I’ve been involved in politics for over 50 years, and I’ve seen it turn from Democrat to Republican” in Alabama, Jefferson County Democratic Party chairman Richard Mauk said.
“I never realized that we would have a chance like this.”
Mauk, a lawyer, insists he knows many Republican professionals who will cross party lines and vote for Jones.
“But they are very, very quiet” about it, he muses, perhaps a recognition that Jones favors abortion rights, a position that goes against conservative dogma.
The Republican dilemma will lead some, like senior Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, to stop short of directly aiding Doug Jones.
Shelby, who voted early, said he wrote in the name of a third candidate on the ballot, as the law allows. “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore,” he told CNN. “But I wrote in a distinguished Republican name.”