Alabama voters have started going to the polls early on Tuesday to cast their ballot in what has now become a pivotal Senate special election.
The race between the Republican candidate Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones was expected to set the stage for next year’s midterm elections even before all of the controversy surrounding Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, came to light.
During Moore’s election campaign for the Senate, nine different women accused the former Chief Justice of sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual conduct. Three of the women claimed they were sexually harassed by Moore when they were aged 14, 16 and 28, while others claimed he pursued romantic relationships with them while they were still minors. The alleged harassment took place in the mid-1970s when Moore was a prosecutor in Etowah County.
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The controversy surrounding the allegations against Moore stretched the support the Republican Party showed towards Moore to its very limits. Prominent figures within the party, such as Arizona state senator John McCain and Mitt Romney, have openly condemned Moore and called for him to drop out of the race. Other Senators withdrew their support for his candidacy, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stating that he believes Moore’s accusers, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan calling for him to abandon his campaign, and Alabama’s former state Senator Richard Shelby stating that Alabama “deserves better” and that the accusations against him “are believable.”
The allegations made against Moore enabled Doug Jones, a Democratic candidate, to gain an incredible amount of traction and support in what recently was a solidly Republican state. The Democratic Party Alabama branch lacked internal organization and public support, as well as the infrastructure necessary to strengthen its position in the deeply red state.
The lack of Democratic presence in Alabama, much like the rest of the Deep South, is so vast, that the 2014 Senate race saw no candidate from the party. Jeff Sessions, current attorney-general of the Trump administration, won the election by a landslide, capturing 97.3% of the vote.
This is bigger than Alabama
At first glance, the controversy surrounding Moore seems like a culmination of the recent surge in sexual harassment allegations against prominent public and political figures in the U.S., triggering a state-wide debate over how much impact these 40-year-old lewd actions should have on the current election.
However, barely scratching the surface reveals that this is a very intricate and arduous political situation that is bigger than both Roy Moore and Doug Jones. This unprecedented Senate race is a Petri dish for cultivating controversy and measuring its effect on American politics. In Alabama, both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of pushing identity politics in order to secure a local win.
A Republican win in Alabama will increase its power in the Senate, where it currently holds just a two-seat majority. Next year’s mid-term Congressional elections will see new legislation passed, and one more seat in the Senate could mean an easier pass for Republican bills.
Roy Moore’s win means a win for President Trump, who already has a hard time securing votes when passing legislation due to the tense relationship he has with many fellow Republicans. Frequent attacks on his presidency and his character have prompted Trump to blame his own party for many of his legislative failures. By voicing his support for Moore, Trump will secure his vote and improve his chances of passing polarizing bills and legislation in the mid-terms.
Just a few months ago, a Democratic win in Alabama was unthinkable, to say the least. Hard media attacks on Moore and other Republican Party figures publicly denouncing him have managed to persuade many long-term Republicans to vote Jones. Capitalizing on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore, Trump and other members of the GOP, Democrats now have a viable chance of taking control of the U.S. Senate in 2019.
Polls biased, voters skeptical, Trump’s opinion trivial
According to the Washington Post, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has stated that he expects no more than 25 percent of eligible voters to cast a ballot in the special election. With just a quarter of the population casting their vote, the race is almost impossible to predict. Opinion polls ran by local media show a vote almost perfectly split, and polls ran by Emerson College, Fox News and Monmouth University predicted dramatically different results.
Emerson College gave Moore a nine-point advantage, while Fox News showed Jones with a 10-point lead. The poll from Monmouth University, however, showed an even result.
Brian Walsh, president of America First Action, a group that has publicly supported Moore throughout his campaign, said that “nobody knows what the hell is going on right now.”
According to field reports ran both by The Washington Post and the New York Times, Alabama voters are becoming increasingly skeptical of either of the two candidates’ win. This race is as tight as it can get, and it seems as the further the voting progresses, the less confidence Alabamans have both in Moore and in Jones.
And while Trump has remained rather tactfully supportive of Moore, it seems that his backing had very little to do with making up the voters’ minds.
Earlier on Tuesday, The Washington Post recounted both Jones and Moore’s voters stating that Trump’s support for Moore had very little or nothing to do with their decision on who to vote. With Moore supporters stating that their vote had more to do with their distaste for Democrats than support for Trump, and Jones voters citing Moore’s conservative religious beliefs and sexual misconduct allegations as the main reason they cast a vote for the Democrats, Trump’s endorsement doesn’t seem to have yielded the desired results.
With may Republican figures believing that securing the majority of the votes is out of reach for the Democratic candidate, Senator Richard C. Shelby, the state’s longest-serving lawmaker, reminded Alabamians on Sunday that they can write in the name of a third candidate.
However, the more Republican voters write in another candidate, the lower the threshold that Doug Jones needs to reach is. With the polls almost equally divided between the candidates, an advantage as low as 1 or 2 percent could be what secures the win for Jones.