By Michael Sainato
Democrat Candidate Doug Jones was projected the winner by the Associated Press and other major media outlets in the Alabama Senate special election on December 12, with just a 1.5 percentage lead over Republican Roy Moore with 100% of precincts reporting. Moore’s campaign has refused to concede, with his campaign chairman Bill Armistead telling supporters “At this point, we do not have a final decision on the outcome tonight.”
Jones’ victory came in the wake of several sexual misconduct allegations against Roy Moore, who was backed by far-right former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Moore managed to win the September 2017 Republican Primary against the Republican establishment candidate Luther Strange, who received an endorsement from President Trump. Moore, was twice removed from office as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to follow federal orders on removing a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building and again for defying federal orders on gay marriage, which Moore believes is a sin. Despite Moore’s abhorrent political record, he was initially viewed to easily win the special election to replace the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The tides of the race turned when women began coming forward, accusing Moore of sexual misconduct and harassment toward underage girls as young as 14 years old. Throughout November 2017, nine women came forward in reports by the Washington Post, AL.com, and the New York Times. Several Republicans rescinded their support of Moore in wake of the revelations, though Trump and the Republican National Committee fully backed Moore in the final days leading up to the election. Several conservative media outlets pushed back on the reports, repeating claims from the Moore campaign that his accusers were lying. Moore’s resurrection to potentially win against Jones despite the allegations was in large part due to conservative media, and Bannon’s strategies, that helped muddy the waters to dispel the veracity of the claims. It worked to some extent as a CBS News poll found that 71 percent of Republicans did not believe the accusations, and several of Moore’s Republican critics returned to back his candidacy. Bloomberg reported on December 11, “Bannon has worked harder than perhaps anyone else to sow doubt about the accusations against Moore and to push the claim that his accusers are lying. In doing so, he’s illustrated the growing power of conservative media to shape the perceptions of Republican voters, something that may keep Alabama’s Senate seat in Republican hands when polls open on Tuesday.”
In the end, Bannon’s efforts were not enough to salvage Moore’s campaign.The loss is a shock to Trump, Republicans, and especially Steve Bannon, who fully supported Moore as a blueprint to help elect far-right candidates against establishment Republicans across the country. Establishment Republicans have framed the loss as a testament against Bannon and his influence on the Republican Party. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) tweeted after Moore’s loss, “The people of #Alabama put country first tonight by rejecting the disgusting Roy Moore. Congratulations to the Bannon wing of the @GOP for gifting a seat to @SenateDems in one of the reddest states. You have no future in our country’s politics. ” The loss will likely serve as fodder for establishment Republicans working to stave off Bannon’s insurrection in Republican Primaries during the 2018 Midterm elections. CNN’s Jim Acosta reported on Twitter, “Source close to WH: ‘It’s devastating for the president… this is an earthquake… Virginia but on steroids… the president has egg on his face’ because of Bannon.”
Bannon framed Moore’s campaign as an effort to oppose establishment Republicans who, in his perception, have undermined Trump’s far-right agenda. He was scheduled to speak at Moore’s election night rally, claiming the night before the election that there is a “special place in hell” for Republicans who won’t support Moore. Bannon added at the rally, “”Mitch McConnell and Sen. Shelby, and Condi Rice and all that, Little Bobby Corker, all the establishment out there doesn’t have Trump’s back at all,” implying all Republicans are just using Trump to accomplish a tax cut.
Black voters played a vital role in propelling Jones to victory; turnout was around 20 percent higher in heavily black Alabama counties, and 96 percent of black voters chose Jones over Moore, while white Alabama voters chose Moore over Jones by over a 2 to 1 margin, according to exit polls posted by the Washington Post.
Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell previously insisted Luther Strange, who was appointed to replace Sessions until the special election, will maintain his seat in the Senate until the current Senate session ends in January 2018. Republicans currently have a 52 to 48 majority in the senate, but Jones’ victory decreases that lead to 51 to 49, which will make it even more difficult for Senate Republicans to pass legislation where a small handful of Republican Senators have defected to the Democrat opposition, such as on issues like Obamacare repeal.