Democrat Doug Jones’ upset victory in the Alabama Senate special election Tuesday not only narrows the GOP advantage in Washington, it sends a cultural message to the #MeToo movement that has been raising awareness about sexual harassment nationally: Even voters in ruby-red states are hearing you.
Alabama voters, who had twice elected Moore to the state Supreme Court despite anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim positions, couldn’t stomach allegations that he committed sexual misconduct decades ago with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore denied the accusations of impropriety, as did Donald Trump, who won the presidency despite allegations of harassment from 16 women.
But this time, the denials fell largely on deaf ears as Jones eked out a narrow victory with 50 percent of the vote Tuesday. Moore, who got 48 percent of the vote, didn’t concede, saying he would seek a recount because “what we should do is wait on God and let this process play out.”
If Jones’ victory holds, it would cut the Republican majority in the Senate to the most narrow of margins, 51-49. As a result, Trump’s “legislative agenda just got a whole lot more difficult. Republicans can’t really lose any votes on big-ticket items,” said Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races as senior editor of the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan publication about Congress.
“It’s a very good night for the #MeToo movement in that a lot of voters did not buy Roy Moore’s insistence that none of this ever happened,” Duffy said. Unlike other politicians such as Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who resigned in the face of multiple accusations of sexual impropriety, Moore “never even contemplated accepting responsibility for this.”
Jones’ surprise victory sends “an incredibly hopeful message. It send a message that decency is alive and well in Alabama,” said Andrea Dew Steele, a San Franciscan who is president and founder of Emerge America, which recruits and mentors female candidates across the country and recently started a chapter in Alabama.
And Tuesday’s impact was felt by women who are running for office for the first time, like Katie Hill, a 30-year-old who is challenging incumbent Rep. Steve Knight, R-Lancaster, for a Los Angeles County congressional seat that Democrats think they have a chance at flipping.
“It shows the tide is changing. It shows you we’re making progress, slowly,” Hill said Tuesday. “Social movements don’t happen overnight.”
In many other states, accusations like the ones leveled against Moore would have buried his political career long ago. But his steadfast Christian political faith — he has said “homosexual conduct should be illegal,” is staunchly anti-abortion and has said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed in Congress — endeared him to some Alabama voters, half of whom identify as evangelical Christians.
Alabamians hadn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate or as governor in two decades. Trump’s approval rating in Alabama hovers around 50 percent, far higher than it is across the rest of the country (38 percent according to RealClearPolitics.com), and Trump won the state by 28 percentage points last year.
But early exit polls showed that a higher percentage (30 percent) of African American voters turned out Tuesday than did for President Obama’s 2012 re-election — and upward of 90 percent supported Jones. Also, 57 percent of women supported Jones, according to early exit polls.
“Tuesday’s lesson is a continuation of the lesson from (last month’s election in) Virginia: Voters of color are the base, and when you turn out the base, you win,” said Aimee Allison, president of Oakland-based Democracy in Color, which worked on voter turnout in the Alabama campaign. “If Democrats miss that message, they’re missing the path to victory for 2018.”
Moore’s loss is a major rebuke of Trump. Not only did Trump support Moore but his former top adviser, Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon, campaigned extensively in Alabama for Moore, casting the race as a choice between “the Trump miracle versus the nullification project.”
In the GOP primary, Trump supported the incumbent, Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the seat after Trump tapped then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. Trump stayed with Moore in the general election to keep the seat in Republican hands.
“Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama,” Trump tweeted this month. “We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet!”
“On multiple levels, Trump lost,” Duffy said. “He showed that he isn’t able to motivate his voters when he isn’t on the ticket.”
Other than retiring Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and a handful of others, Republicans did not strongly oppose Moore. That must change, said Republican political consultant Alex Carey.
“Republicans need to come out for what’s right and say it forcefully,” said Carey, a former aide to ex-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. “They need to have a voice other than the president who can speak for the party.”
Tuesday’s race, which likely wouldn’t have been on the national radar given Alabama’s history as a red state, took on outsized significance in light of the recent movement of calling out men who sexually harassed women.
Over the past few months, major figures from media, politics and Hollywood — including producer Harvey Weinstein, broadcasters Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer and politicians Franken and Conyers — have resigned, retired or been fired in the face of accusations of sexual misconduct by multiple women.
The concurrent national conversation brought in so many outside contributions to his opponent that Moore declared this week that he wasn’t “going to stand by and let other people from out of state and money from California control this election.”
Jones raised $10 million between Oct. 1 and Nov. 22, the final campaign finance reporting deadline — 10 times more than Moore over that period. Of the nearly 25,000 television ads that aired during the campaign, 86 percent were either pro-Jones or anti-Moore. Overall, Jones raised $11.8 million to $5.15 million for Moore.