The final hours before Alabama voters headed to the polls to decide a special Senate election saw dueling robocalls from President Trump and former President Barack Obama, along with wildly disparate poll results showing everything from decisive wins for each candidate to a race that remains too close to call.
One Alabama Republican described the battle on the ground between GOP nominee Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones as a “total shitshow.” On Monday, a Fox News poll showed Jones unexpectedly leading by 10 points. An Emerson College survey released the same day had Moore up by 9 points.
Jones has crisscrossed the state as he hopes to become the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama since 1992. The Jones campaign has touted over 200 campaign events in the past two months and claimed to have knocked on some 80,000 doors over the weekend.
Moore has kept a much lower profile. Moore’s rally with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, a populist kingmaker who has stuck with the retired judge since the GOP primary, was his first public event in nearly a week. On the weekend before the election, Moore limited himself to one friendly interview and did not even attend church.
The race between Moore and Jones was always closer than a typical Senate contest in Alabama, a ruby red state that Trump carried by 28 points last year. When Republican Jeff Sessions last ran for re-election for the seat he did not even attract a Democratic challenger and won with more than 97 percent of the vote. Sessions resigned to become attorney general; Moore and Jones are vying to fill the remainder of his term.
But allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore have rocked the campaign, coming at a time when leading figures from Hollywood to Capitol Hill have seen their careers ended by such accusations. In Moore’s case, the 70-year-old has been accused by at least eight women of inappropriate behavior while he was in his 30s and they were as young as 14. Some have described Moore as engaging in sexual assault.
Moore has denied all the accusations and his supporters have tried to highlight what they see as inconsistencies in the accusers’ accounts. One has admitted to adding notes to a yearbook inscription that served as a piece of evidence the candidate and the accuser knew each other. The Moore camp has implied that the signature is a forgery, though this has not been proven.
Yet Moore has had some inconsistencies himself, equivocating on whether he knew any of the women accusing him. In a radio interview with Sean Hannity after the first four accusers came forward, he left the door open to having dated women in their teens but above Alabama’s legal age of consent, adding he would have sought their mothers’ permission; he later slammed that door shut.
“I do not know them. I had no encounter with them. I never molested anyone. And for them to say that, I don’t know why they’re saying it, but it’s not true,” Moore told the Voice of Alabama Politics over the weekend.
Jones has enlisted national Democrats to come campaign for him, especially influential African-American leaders such as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. “We need people like Doug who will make the government work and actually get something done,” former Vice President Joe Biden wrote in a fundraising appeal. “Folks who will make it possible again for parents to be able to look their kids in the eye and say it's going to be ok — and mean it.”
The riskiest move may have been a prerecorded telephone message from Obama, warning voters the special election is “serious.”
"Doug Jones is a fighter for equality, for progress," the former president said. "Doug will be our champion for justice. So get out and vote, Alabama." Obama never received more than 38 percent of the vote in Alabama, losing its electoral votes in 2008 and 2012. Democrats have long worried that nationalizing the race would backfire.
But Obama, Booker and Patrick hope to boost black voter turnout on Tuesday. The polls are varying so widely in part because of conflicting assumptions about who will turn out in the special election. If the electorate is about 25 percent black, that helps Jones.
Moore looked like he would be abandoned by the national Republican Party after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner, R-Colo., both indicated they believed the women accusing him of misconduct. But Trump’s full-throated endorsement drew the Republican National Committee and some national groups back into Alabama, where some pollsters have never counted Moore out.
The accusations have actually triggered a backlash from Moore’s base, as many saw them as a hit job from a biased liberal media. These voters typically argue that the women’s stories are all 40 years old and did not surface in any of Moore’s prior campaigns.
These contentions undoubtedly resonated with Trump, who has denied multiple allegations of sexual misconduct himself and is in the midst of low-grade political warfare against media outlets that have had to correct major news stories about the Trump-Russia affair.
Polls close in Alabama at 7 p.m. local time.