In stunning political setback to President Donald Trump, Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race Tuesday night, winning a tight race in a reliably Red State.
After all the charges, denials, claims and promises, Alabama voters had their say after a scandal-stained Senate election campaign that tested the limits of party loyalty in the age of Trump and — win or lose — promised significant political consequences for Republicans everywhere.
At the center of the special election was fiery Christian conservative Moore — “Judge Moore” to his supporters. The 70-year-old Republican was twice ousted as state Supreme Court chief justice after flouting federal law. This year he attempted a political resurrection against party officials horrified by accusations that he was guilty of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
In Moore’s path stood Democrat Jones, 63, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen who killed four black girls in Birmingham’s infamous 1963 church bombing. He was trying to become the first Democrat in a quarter century to win an Alabama Senate seat.
“I think I have been waiting all my life and now I don’t know what the hell to say,” Jones told jubilant supporters in Birmingham, Alabama, after the Associated Press, CNN and other networks declared him the winner. “I am overwhelmed. … This has been a wonderful night.”
“The people of Alabama have spoken.”
The returns provide a political roller coaster of sorts throughout the night. Jones started out ahead early in the night, but was soon overtaken by Moore, who remained in the lead right up until the end.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting, Jones was leading Moore, 49.5 percent to 48.8 percent, according to CNN.
But a defiant Moore refused to concede.
“It’s not over,” Moore told supporters more than an hour after Jones declared victory. “We also know that God is always in control. … Part of the problem with this campaign is we’ve been painted in an unfavorable and unfaithful light. We’ve been put in a hole.”
Moore insisted “votes are still coming” in.
“It’s not over, and it’s going to take some time,” Moore said.
The Associated Press declared Jones the winner an hour earlier, at 9:24 p.m.
Earlier in the evening, Moore’s campaign manager predicted Moore would soon have the title of senator.
“Watch party? It’s a victory party,” Moore campaign manager Rich Hobson told the crowd.
During the earlier celebration, Becky Gerritson, the leader of a nearby tea party group, said sexual misconduct allegations against Moore caused his supporters to rally around him harder.
“We’re seeing his supporters digging in, and they’re pumped up,” Gerritson said.
The stakes are high for Alabama and perhaps higher for the national Republican Party, which faced two painful outcomes: The GOP losing a Senate seat in a deep-red state that would energize Democrats everywhere; or the party winning Tuesday’s election and welcoming a man accused of sordid conduct to the U.S. Senate just as Republicans prepare to defend their congressional majorities in 2018.
The election has also renewed lingering tension between Trump, who backed Moore in the campaign’s final days, and the Republicans who control Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chief among them, who called for Moore to abandon the campaign promise an ethics investigation if he’s elected.
On the ground in Alabama on Tuesday, those who stood in line to cast their ballots were far more focused on the candidates than the broader political fallout.
“He’s not a truthful man,” 69-year-old Mary Multrie said of Moore. Multrie, who works in a children’s hospital, was not influenced by accusations of sexual misconduct against Moore, she said, because she already did not like him. “He talks about God, but you don’t see God in his actions.”
She was among more than two dozen people queued up in the chilly morning air at Legion Field, a predominantly black precinct in Birmingham, to cast their ballots.
Al Bright, 63, who does refrigeration repair, said he voted for Moore.
“Regardless of the allegations against him, I believe he is an honorable man,” Bright said.
Teresa Brown, a 53-year-old administrative assistant, said she preferred Jones, in part, because he would be better positioned to work across party lines.
“We don’t need a pedophile in there,” Brown added.
Tuesday’s winner will take over the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions through 2020.
One seat alone will not change the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, but a loss will make it harder for Trump to push legislation through a bitterly divided Congress. A GOP loss would also give 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.
Democrats were not supposed to have a chance in Alabama, one of the most Republican-leaning states in the nation.
Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton here by nearly 28 points just 13 months ago. Yet Moore had political baggage that repelled some moderate Republicans even before allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.
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 removed from his position as state Supreme Court chief justice the first time after he refused to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument at the state court building. The second time, he was permanently suspended for urging state probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In his final pitch before polls opened across the state, Jones called the choice a “crossroads” and asked that “decency” prevail.
“We’ve had this history in the past, going down the road that … has not been productive,” Jones said. “We’ve lagged behind in industry. We’ve lagged behind in education. We’ve lagged behind in health care. It’s time we take the road that’s going to get us on the path to progress.”
Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Bill Barrow and Emily Wagster Pettus in Birmingham contributed to this report.