Montgomery, AL. — In a stunning upset, the deepest red state in the United States voted for the first Democratic Senator in more than two and a half decades in a slim victory, giving Democrats a momentum heading into the 2018 election, while wounding a divided GOP.
The ugliest special election for Alabama’s Senate seat to fill the seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Session drew national attention after The Washington Post reported four women alleged Republican Roy Moore of sexual allegations, saying Moore in his 30s pursued them as teenagers. Moore denied the charges and spent the rest of the campaign fending off the accusations and resisting pressure from his own party to step aside. Democratic candidate Doug Jones used the allegations to attack Moore on the campaign trail, launching TV ads listing the names of Moore’s accusers while asking Alabama voters, “Will we make their abuser a U.S. senator?”
Shortly after 11:30pm EST, AP declared Jones the victor of the race. Moments after the race was called, Jones took to Twitter to thank Alabama voters.
Thank you ALABAMA!!
— Doug Jones (@GDouglasJones) December 13, 2017
Moore, in a two minute speech, refused to concede, telling supporters “it’s not over” while mentioning the possibility of a recount.
In his victory speech held in Birmingham, Jones vowed to build a bipartisan bridge in Washington, pointing out his victory was a sign that voters voted progress, not politics.
“Alabama has been at a crossroads. We have been at crossroads in the past, and unfortunately we have usually taken the wrong fork,” Jones said in his victory speech. “Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you took the right fork. I have always believed that the people of Alabama have more in common than divides us. We have shown the country the way that we can be unified.”
Jones added, “At the end of the day, this entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign has been about the rule of law,” he said. “This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which zip code you live in, is gonna get a fair shake in life.”
Moore, in a two minute speech, refused to concede, telling supporters in Montgomery “it’s not over” while mentioning the possibility of a recount.
“When the vote is this close, it’s not over,” Moore told supporters at his election night rally. “Part of the problem with this campaign is that we’ve been painted in an unfavorable and unfaithful light. We’ve been put in a hole.”
He concluded: “Let this process play out.”
— POLITICO (@politico) December 13, 2017
A recount can only be considered under Alabama election laws if the margin of victory is close — 0.5%. With 100% reporting, Jones won the race with 1.5-point gap (49.9-48.4 percent or 671,151 votes to 650,436 votes), a margin that was close but isn’t considered to be an automatic recount. More than 1.2 million Alabamians turned out to vote, a little less than the total number of voters (1.3 million) who voted for Trump in 2016.
Moore can call for a recount, if he is willing to pay for it, according to Alabama Secretary of State. A total of 22,819 ballots was cast as write-in candidates, giving Jones the boost to victory. If the Secretary of State determines there were more write-in votes than the difference between Jones and Moore, the state’s counties would be required to tally those votes, but it isn’t clear how much it could help Moore.
President Donald Trump congratulated Jones on his apparent “hard fought victory” on Twitter, adding “Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time.”
Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2017
Trump didn’t support the former judge during the Republican primary, but rallied support during the final week, despite members of the Republican party calling on Moore to drop out and withdrawing their support, including Alabama’s long-serving Sen. Richard Shelby. The GOP’s Senate campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee severed a fundraising agreement in early November after The Washington Post report. Reinjection of cash returned shortly after Trump announced his full-fledged support.
Democrats rejoiced Jones victory on Twitter. Senator Bernie Sanders congratulated the voters of Alabama for Jones victory, saying the victory was “for justice and decency. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Jones “a great candidate” who will be an “outstanding Senator who will represent Alabama well.” Hillary Clinton called the upsetting victory a chance for Democrats to “compete everywhere.”
Republicans, on the other hand began blaming President Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon for costing Republicans a “critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country.” The Senate Leadership Fund, Mitch McConnell-aligned Super PAC in a statement also blamed Bannon for dragging the president “into his fiasco.” Pro-Trump supporters and candidates placed the blame on McConnell, saying his withdrawal of support for Moore to “colluded with Democrats.”
The Alabama GOP released a statement acknowledging Jones’ win, saying “Alabamians are conservatives” even though the party is “deeply disappointed” in the results, but “respect the voting process.”
Jones pulled off the narrow unexpected victory thanks to a strong turnout from African-American voters. 30 percent of Alabama electorate was black with exit polls conducted by the National Election Pool showing that 96 percent of black voters supported Jones. His campaign focused heavily on turning out African-American voters in the final days leading to election day, with civil rights icon and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, retired basketball star Charles Barkley and other black leaders hitting the trail alongside Jones.
When it came to the sexual allegations, exit polls showed a virtual split from voters. 52 percent of voters believed they were definitely or probably true, with 89 percent of them voting for Jones. However, 44 percent said they were probably or definitely false, with Moore winning 94 percent of those voters. Amongst women voters, 57 percent voted for Jones, while 41 percent voted for Moore. Young voters under 45 went for Jones by 60 percent, while only 38 percent voted for Moore.
Voters in Alabama’s largest cities who overwhelmingly voted for Trump, giving him a 28 point victory over Clinton in 2016 rejected Moore’s candidacy. Large areas of Madison, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Lee and Talladega turned out largely for Trump, but not for Moore. In Madison and Mobile, Trump won about 90,000 votes and 95,000 of the counties respectively, while Moore lost both counties, only gaining half of Trump’s votes of 46,313 and 46,725 respectively.
Heading into 2018, the Republican Party’s narrow Senate majority will now be trimmed to 51-49, with a civil war brewing between the establishment led by Senate McConnell against insurgent candidates led by Bannon.