US Politics

Democrat Doug Jones wins US Senate seat in Alabama, embarrassing Donald Trump, who endorsed alleged molester Roy Moore

Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor, prevailed over Republican Moore, whose campaign was dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct toward teenagers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 11:42am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 December, 2017, 5:40pm

Democrat Doug Jones, whose uphill bid for the US Senate gathered strength when Republican Roy Moore was hit with charges of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, won Alabama’s special election Tuesday.

The stunning upset by Jones, a former prosecutor, sliced the GOP’s already thin Senate majority to a bare 51-49. It was also an embarrassing blow for US President Donald Trump, who had loudly endorsed Moore in spite of the allegations against him.

Jones will replace interim Republican Senator Luther Strange, who was appointed in February to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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.

“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. He added, “This entire race has been about dignity and respect.”

We have shown not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way – that we can be unified
US senator-elect Doug Jones

From the White House, Trump graciously 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!”

A number of Republicans declined to support Moore, including Alabama’s long-serving Senator Richard Shelby, who voted for a write-in candidate. But Trump lent his name and the national GOP’s resources to Moore’s campaign.

“Tonight’s results are clear – the people of Alabama deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve in the US Senate,” said Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who leads the national GOP’s Senate campaign arm and called on Moore to quit the race weeks ago.

Moore had nevertheless counted on landslide support among the state’s overwhelmingly white, conservative electorate to overcome charges he molested two teenage girls and pursued a romantic relationship with several others when he was a prosecuting attorney in his 30s.

But he was faced with a strong turnout among black voters, who voted in heavy numbers for Jones.

In the end, Jones won by a slim margin, with 49.9 per cent of the vote to Moore’s 48.4 per cent. Tellingly, there were 22,777 write-in votes from electors who did not want to pick either official candidate; Jones’ winning margin was 21,311.

“I’m 45, and I’ve voted since I was 18,” said Chris Barry, who showed up to cast a ballot for Jones at a fire station in Hoover, a heavily Republican suburb outside Birmingham. “He’s the best chance we’ve had since I can remember.”

Some, long accustomed to voting the GOP ticket, backed Moore with admitted concern.

“I think any way you look at it, it’s horrendous,” said Craig Gilbert, a corporate pilot. “If a man is falsely accused, it’s horrendous. And if a 32-year-old man was molesting a 14-year-old girl, it’s horrendous.

“You have to kind of keep your fingers crossed,” Gilbert said before stepping out of the blustery cold to vote, “and hope the truth comes out and we’ll deal with it at that time.”

Jones, 63, is a former US attorney who gained fame for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church decades after the strike against the civil rights movement.

He was making his first try at political office.

His victory complicates Trump’s efforts to pass his agenda and giving Democrats a major lift in their uphill fight to win control of the upper chamber in the 2018 midterm election.

In Washington, Moore’s prospective GOP colleagues watched uneasily.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who pointedly withheld his support, declined to say whether Moore would be invited to join GOP lawmakers for their near-daily lunches and strategy sessions had he won.

“All of those are good questions for tomorrow, and we await the outcome,” McConnell told reporters.

Trump, who also faces accusations of sexual misconduct, largely steered clear of the contest before leaping in headlong as polls showed Moore’s support among Republicans holding firm. He weighed in anew Tuesday morning on Twitter, urging Republicans to get to the polls and calling Jones a puppet of Democratic leaders in Congress. “VOTE ROY MOORE!” Trump said.

Jones, smiling broadly, cast his ballot early Tuesday morning in Mountain Brook, a well-off Birmingham suburb, expressing confidence in “where we are and how it’s going to turn out.”

Moore, accompanied by his wife, rode a horse to their polling place at the fire station in rural Gallant, outside his hometown of Gadsden in the northeast part of the state. It was the same thing he did in September, when he beat interim Senator Strange in the GOP primary and thus, Moore suggested, good luck.

While the two candidates were plainly happy to vote for themselves, others were less inspired.

“One has beliefs that don’t line up with mine, and the other is dishonest,” said Phil Smith, 52, a small-business owner in Hoover who wrote in a name he declined to say. “I’m just glad it’s over.”

He was far from alone.

The allegations have drawn national attention and no small amount of disparagement of Alabama, its history, its voters and their judgment. That condescension along with many millions of dollars in negative advertising, robocalls and attack mailers left many feeling besieged, angered and fatigued.

While the Senate race has been deeply divisive, there seemed a consensus Tuesday on one thing: gladness that the acrid campaigning was about to end.

“It’s like the devil or the deep blue sea,” said Republican Ann Heitz, a Hoover retiree who declined to give her age or say for whom she voted. “I put the TV on mute, I didn’t answer the phone if I didn’t recognise the number, and I threw out the mail.

“There is no good outcome to this for me,” she said, her faced curled in a scowl. “I’m disgusted by the whole thing.

Additional reporting by Associated Press