'The people of Alabama have spoken'
In a stunning victory aided by scandal, Democrat Doug Jones won Alabama’s special Senate election on Tuesday, beating back history, an embattled Republican opponent and President Donald Trump, who urgently endorsed GOP rebel Roy Moore despite a litany of sexual misconduct allegations.
It was the first Democratic Senate victory in a quarter-century in Alabama, one of the reddest of red states, and proved anew that party loyalty is anything but sure in the age of Trump. The Republican loss was a major embarrassment for the president and a fresh wound for the nation’s already divided GOP.
“We have shown not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way – that we can be unified,” Jones declared as supporters in a Birmingham ballroom cheered, danced and cried tears of joy. “The people of Alabama have spoke.”
Still in shock, the Democrat struggled for words: “I think that I have been waiting all my life, and now I just don’t know what the hell to say.”
Moore, meanwhile, refused to concede and raised the possibility of a recount during a brief appearance at a somber campaign party in Montgomery.
“It’s not over,” Moore said. He added, “We know that God is still in control.”
From the White House, Trump tweeted his congratulations to Jones “on a hard-fought victory” – but added pointedly that “the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!”
Jones takes over the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The term expires in January of 2021.
The victory by Jones, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for Birmingham’s infamous 1963 church bombing, narrows the GOP advantage in the U.S. Senate to 51-49. That imperils already-uncertain Republican tax, budget and health proposals and injects tremendous energy into the Democratic Party’s early push to reclaim House and Senate majorities in 2018.
Still, many Washington Republicans viewed the defeat of Moore as perhaps the best outcome for the party nationally despite the short-term sting.
The fiery Christian conservative’s positions have alienated women, racial minorities, gays and Muslims – in addition to the multiple allegations that he was guilty of sexual misconduct with teens, one only 14, when he was in his 30s.
“Tonight’s results are clear – the people of Alabama deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate,” said Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who leads the national GOP’s Senate campaign arm and called on Moore to quit the race weeks ago.
A number of Republicans declined to support him, including Alabama’s long-serving Sen. Richard Shelby. But Trump lent his name and the national GOP’s resources to Moore’s campaign in recent days.
Had Moore won, the GOP would have been saddled with a colleague accused of sordid conduct as Republicans nationwide struggle with Trump’s historically low popularity. Senate leaders had promised that Moore would have faced an immediate ethics investigation.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have expressed hopes of scheduling a vote on their tax legislation before Jones is sworn in, but lawmakers are still struggling to devise a compromise bill to bridge the divide between the House and Senate legislation that can win majority support in both chambers.
The Republican loss also gives Democrats a clearer path to a Senate majority in 2018 – albeit a narrow one – in an election cycle where Democrats are far more optimistic about seizing control of the House of Representatives.
Ultimately, Tuesday’s contest came down to which side better motivated its supporters to vote.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said turnout likely would not exceed 25 percent of registered voters.