After all that has happened, the Alabama Senate race appears to be reverting to a fundamental political truth: A state that is one of the most Republican in the nation is likely to vote Republican.
Of course, there is still the possibility of some new and devastating sexual misconduct revelation about GOP candidate Roy Moore. But there is an increasing sense that the old and devastating sexual misconduct revelations are receding into the distant past of two weeks ago. Now, Moore is recovering in the polls and more Alabama voters seem comfortable with the idea of voting for him.
Part of that is because of the voters' long familiarity with Moore. For his supporters, the allegations did not seem to fit the man they admired. Something similar could be said of independents and even those Alabamians who see Moore as a Bible-thumping fanatic; the allegations did not seem to fit the man they hated. Neither recognized the Moore they thought they knew in stories in the Washington Post and other outlets that published allegations against Moore.
"When the allegations first came out, there was a little bit of a shock factor, because it seemed so out of character for the man they knew," a Moore campaign source said Wednesday. "I think that these allegations are not wearing well, because he has made such a strong impression on people over the years."
Moore appears to be recovering in the polls in the head-to-head matchup with Democratic opponent Doug Jones. Moore was six points ahead of Jones in the RealClearPolitics average of polls before the first allegations. By Nov. 21, Moore was eight-tenths of a point behind Jones. Now, Moore is back in the lead, but by just two points.
In the three most recent individual polls in the RCP average, Moore is ahead by six, five, and two points. In addition, the Moore campaign runs a tracking poll five nights a week, and it is showing Moore with around a five-point lead.
It appears the improvement in Moore's fortunes is being driven by a gradual change in the Alabama electorate's view of the allegations against him. In a poll taken from Nov. 16 to November 19, the firm Morning Consult asked registered voters, "Generally, do you find sexual misconduct allegations against [Moore] to be credible, or not credible?" Forty-three percent said credible, 19 percent said not credible, and 37 percent said they did not know or had no opinion.
In a new poll, taken from Nov. 21 to 25, Morning Consult asked the same question. Forty-one percent said they found the allegations credible, 21 percent said not credible, and 41 percent said they did not know or had no opinion.
That's not a huge change, but it's a total six percentage point increase in the group of people who say the allegations are not credible or who say they don't know. Most of the change occurred in the "don't know" column, suggesting that voters who originally believed the allegations are now doubting them.
A look inside the two polls shows most of that movement is happening among Republicans. In the earlier polls, 36 percent of self-identified Republicans said they found the allegations credible, versus 27 percent who found them not credible, and 37 percent who didn't know. In the new poll, 30 percent said they found the allegations credible, versus 26 percent who found them not credible, and 44 percent who didn't know.
The number of Republicans who said they don't believe the allegations stayed roughly the same. But there appears to have been a pretty significant shift from those who said they believed the allegations to those who now say they don't know.
Among Democrats, the number who believe the allegations stayed almost exactly the same from poll to poll. But the number who said they did not believe the allegations ticked upward. The same occurred with independents.
So each group, but especially Republicans, appears to be changing their view of the allegations against Moore. "Any regression we saw in the first aftermath [of the allegations] has stopped," a campaign source said. "Now, we're on a steady creep back up. People have absorbed the news, and they've had an opportunity to think about it."
Part of the change — perhaps a large part -- seems to reflect the idea that many voters don't view Moore's accusers in the same way that many media figures do. A number of media reports portray overwhelming evidence against Moore. "He's pitting his word against the word of nine women who accused him of varying degrees of sexual misconduct," CNN reported recently. The message is that the sheer number of accusers means at least some must be telling the truth.
But it seems likely that some Alabama voters don't see nine accusers. They see one accuser.
That one accuser is Leigh Corfman, who says Moore sexually assaulted her in 1979, when she was 14 years old. Published in the Washington Post, Corfman's was the first and most serious allegation against Moore, and it remains the most serious today. Corfman has seemed credible in media appearances, and Moore has not been able to refute her story. The Moore campaign realizes Corfman's is the most compelling allegation against him.
But the Post account also included the stories of three other women who said Moore asked them out when they were 16, 17, and 18 years old, and whose cases against Moore did not involve any physical abuse or coercion.
Then there was Beverly Young Nelson, who said Moore assaulted her in 1977, when she was 16. Nelson made the mistake of retaining celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred when she made her allegations, and she also mishandled Moore's contention that a signature in a yearbook she produced, ostensibly by Moore, might be a fake. Both moves reduced her credibility.
So that is five accusers right there. It is likely that voters pushed four of them to the side, leaving Corfman.
Then there was a woman who said Moore grabbed her behind in 1991, when she was 28. A woman who said Moore asked her out in 1982, when she was 17. A woman who said Moore asked her out repeatedly in 1977, when she was 18, and gave her an unwanted, "forceful" kiss. And finally, a woman who said Moore asked her out several times in 1977, when she was 22.
Asked her out several times when she was 22 years old? That's not the most outrageous allegation in the news these days. Four more accusers, some with very thin stories.
That makes nine. The point is not that none of the accusers is telling the truth. Perhaps some, or all, are. What appears to have happened in the Alabama race is that one very serious allegation was followed by a series of less serious, or less credible, accusations that in the end did not have the cumulative effect that Moore's opponents perhaps intended. Instead, the string of less serious accusers tended to focus attention on Corfman. (By the way, in both Morning Consult polls, Alabama women tended to doubt the accusers more than men.)
In addition, the eight less serious allegations looked even less serious in light of national reports of Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer. In some of the eight instances, Moore's behavior seemed absolutely shy by comparison.
So the bottom line is, instead of Roy Moore versus nine accusers, in many voters' minds, the story is Roy Moore versus one accuser. And that is where the mental calculations begin.
Corfman's allegation is serious; she was, after all, 14 years old. But it's not airtight. And it was in 1979 -- 38 years ago. Memories fade, or change. And even if it is all true, has Moore changed in the nearly four decades since? Is there a statute of political limitations? Thoughts like that can change minds.
Finally, in many voters' minds, all that is combined with the Doug Jones factor. There's no doubt Moore's Democratic opponent is far to the left for a race in Alabama. Jones' views on abortion alone -- he supports it virtually up to the moment of birth -- would be enough to ensure defeat in an Alabama race. And so Alabama Republicans are more and more assessing the situation as Alabama Republicans. It would be no surprise if they vote that way.
"My guess is that they are recognizing that they have this Hobson's choice," said one senior GOP strategist who has been following the race. "They may not like Moore, they may not like what he has done, but when it comes down to it, they just don't want to vote for a Democrat."
Of course, all of that could change if new, more serious allegations emerge. But that is what is going on right now.
There have always been plenty of Alabama Republicans who don't like Roy Moore. They see him as a religious nut and an embarrassment to the state. But the Senate race will be determined by the Republicans who either support Moore or who, no matter what they think of him, simply don't see a vote for the Democrat as a real option. In a state as heavily Republican as Alabama, that's enough to win.