In red Alabama, a state where Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 28 points just 13 months ago, Democrat Doug Jones won the special Senate election on Tuesday, beating his scandal ridden Republican opponent, Roy Moore.
This is a major embarrassment for President Donald Trump, who supported Roy Moore despite a litany of saxual misconduct allegations.
Virtually the entire Republican establishment, Trump included, supported Moore. Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was one of the only early high-profile Moore backers.
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. 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.
The Republican loss 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.
Jones successfully fought to cobble together an unlikely coalition of African-Americans, liberal whites and moderate Republicans.
He had his strongest support across Alabama’s “black belt,” named for the color of its soil, and in the larger urban areas, including Montgomery, Birmingham, Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. Turnout in those areas, which features a large African-American population, also ran higher than in some of the more heavily Republican parts of the state.
At his election night headquarters, stunned supporters erupted in celebration as news of his victory was announced. Many danced to the song “Happy.” Some cried.
“I honestly did not know that this was even an option. I didn’t think that we could elect a Democrat,” said 26-year-old campaign volunteer Jess Eddington, her eyes red from tears of joy. “I am so proud we did.”
Moore, who largely avoided public events in the final weeks of the race and spent far less money on advertising than his opponent, bet big — and lost — on the state’s traditional Republican leanings and the strength of his passionate evangelical Christian supporters.
He sidestepped questions about saxual misconduct as he arrived at his polling place on horseback earlier in the day.
Alabama state law calls for a recount if the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percentage point. With all precincts reporting, Jones led by 1.5 points — three times that margin.
Virtually the entire Republican establishment, Trump included, supported Moore’s primary opponent, Sen. Luther Strange in September. Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was one of the only early high-profile Moore backers.
Moore was once removed from his position as state Supreme Court chief justice after he refused to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument at the state court building. A second time, he was permanently suspended for urging state probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-sax couples.