Alabama: Defeat of Republican ally Roy Moore is a major blow to President Trump
The Democrat Doug Jones has beaten his Donald Trump-backed Republican rival Roy Moore in the diehard Republican state of Alabama, setting off a political earthquake likely to shake Washington in due course.
Doug Jones was able to become the first Democrat in a decade to win any statewide office in Alabama by beating a close ally Trump Moore, who had faced multiple allegations of sexual assault during a campaign which exposed Republican Party fault lines. His victory in a special election for a US Senate seat – by a margin of 49.9 to 48.4 with 100% of precincts reporting – is a major personal blow to the president and his efforts to pass tax reform on Capitol Hill.
Jones emerged to a euphoric reception just before 10pm local time. “Folks, I gotta tell you, I think that I have been waiting all my life and now I just don’t know what the hell to say,” he said, beginning a 10-minute speech. “I have always believed that the people of Alabama had more in common than what would divide us.”
The margin of victory is well above the half a percentage point which would have triggered a recount. Jones told his supporters in a victory speech that the "entire race has been about dignity and respect". The 63-year-old is a former lawyer known for helping convict two Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a black church in 1963 in Birmingham, killing four girls. He has never held elected office.
The election had never been either about him or Moore, he insisted. “This entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of what zip code you live in, is going to get a fair shake.” His speech was met with cheers and applause and chants of “USA! USA!”
At Jones’ election night party hundreds of supporters, many waving signs, erupted in cheers at a hotel ballroom in Birmingham when, on giant TV screens, CNN declared the race for the Democrat. There were hugs, smiles, tears and chants of “We want Doug!” The raw emotion was evident.
John Parker, 26, a bartender, said: “I think it’s astounding and unprecedented in Alabama politics, and a response to what we’re seeing nationally. This is a direct response to President Trump. Roy Moore is unfit for any job, let alone a public servant. Alabama tonight voted for America.” He added: “There is hope and joy. Tomorrow’s another day in Alabama.” Caitlin Barringer, 29, who works in healthcare, said: “We finally have a person who will represent all of Alabama. I can’t believe it’s taken this long for people to realize that Roy Moore is not what he says he is.”
However, Roy Moore, who was refusing to concede the race, had been favored in the deep red state until two women came forward to claim that Moore assaulted them when they were teenagers; a number of other women said the Alabama Republican had romantically pursued them when they were underage. Moore has denied all the allegations. Top officials in the Republican Party were reluctant to back Moore, particularly after the Washington Post allegations of sexual misconduct were revealed, but Trump steadily ramped up his backing for the beleaguered candidate.
Though Trump’s and Roy Moore's evangelical fervor grabbed more attention, Jones is also a Christian - specifically, a Methodist. He has worshipped at the same church for more than 30 years, and has said the message of Christianity should be one of fairness and inclusivity, not extremism.
Moore was supposed to be Steve Bannon's first big victory, a cannonball fired into the heart of the Republican establishment and a visible example of the populist-evangelical electoral alliance he was crafting. Instead, the former Trump campaign head and senior White House adviser has been humbled. His candidate, it turns out, was deeply flawed and he ended up losing what should have been a slam-dunk Senate election.
Bannon has declared all-out war against Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he views as insufficiently supportive of Trump's "America first" agenda, and promised to field 2018 primary challengers against every Republican senator running for re-election save Texan Ted Cruz.
Senator Douglas Jones
Jones is the first Democrat to win a US Senate seat for Alabama in 25 years. Jones’s Senate victory probably won't be the president's last word on the matter but for now, his reaction could reflect an acknowledgment that despite his support for Moore, it wasn't enough to pull his man over the finish line, even in conservative Alabama.
Alabama is a deeply conservative place, as its voting record amply demonstrates. Until Doug Jones came along the state hadn't picked a Democrat for the US Senate since 1992 - and even that man, Richard Shelby, went on to defect to the Republicans. But on 12 December Jones, 63, painted the old red seat blue when voters chose him to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions's former berth. So what do we know about the man who fought and beat Republican Roy Moore for the heart of Dixie?
Gordon Douglas Jones, known as Doug, studied political science at the University of Alabama, followed by law at the state's Samford University in 1979. He rose to prominence in 1997, when Bill Clinton named him US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.
Politics took an early hold on Jones, who began his career as a staff counsel to the US Senate Judiciary Committee, working for Alabama Senator Howell Heflin. From 1980 he spent four years as an Assistant US Attorney, then from 1984-97 worked for a criminal defence firm in Birmingham, Alabama. In 2013, he co-founded his own firm - Jones & Hawley.
Jones counts former Vice President Joe Biden as an old friend, having led his 1988 presidential campaign in Alabama. Biden said of him at an October 2017 rally: "I can count on two hands the people I've campaigned for that have as much integrity, as much courage."He added that Jones "helped remove 40 years of stain and pain from this state" with the church bombing convictions.
After his appointment as US attorney in Birmingham in 1997, Jones led a team of federal and state attorneys during trials that resulted in the convictions of Thomas Blanton Jr in 2001 and Bobby Frank Cherry in 2002.
One was aware he was facing poor odds in Alabama, which backed Donald Trump in 2016 with a 28-point landslide. Policy-wise, Jones has pitched himself as a moderate Democrat, calling for an increase in the minimum wage, but also lower corporate taxes "to try to get reinvestment back into this country". He supports renewable energy, but is hawkish on the need for increased defence spending, saying it will protect the US and shore up Alabama's economy.
Fall of Trump
The results are nothing short of an embarrassment for President Donald Trump and a disaster for Republicans in Washington as the reliably red state of Alabama elected its first Democratic senator since the early 1990s. "I think I have been waiting all my life and now I don't know what the hell to say," Jones said Tuesday night. "I am truly overwhelmed," he added. "We have shown, not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way that we can be unified." "This entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign -- this campaign has been about the rule of law," he said. "This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which ZIP code you live in, is going to get a fair shake in life."
Alabama defeat is an especially awkward outcome for Trump, who endorsed Moore and rallied for him at a campaign event just across Alabama's state line. "This is an earthquake... it's devastating for the President," a source close to the White House said.
A cunning Trump has distanced himself from Roy Moore after the Republican suffered a historic defeat for the party in conservative Alabama. The victory for Democrat Doug Jones narrows the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49, which could complicate Trump’s legislative plans.
Trump's gut instinct got him the Republican nomination against all the odds and won him the presidential election. But on Alabama he's now found himself on the losing side - twice. First backing Luther Strange and then, after he lost, sticking with Roy Moore even when it became clear he was a political liability after repeated allegations of sexual abuse against teenage girls emerged.
Why this matters is that for two years now Donald Trump seems to have defied the laws of political gravity. But suddenly this president is no longer operating in a weightless environment. He has tumbled to earth with a bump. When someone seems invincible with his defeat of big lady Mrs Clinton, but turns out to be mortal after all, it will affect how your friends and enemies approach you.
Moore’s defeat marks a major personal blow to Trump personally as reigning president, who endorsed the Alabama Republican and held a rally on his behalf just over the state line in Pensacola, Florida. Although most national Republicans rushed to distance themselves from Moore in the aftermath of the allegations, Trump reaffirmed his support through tweets and public statements.
If the president or his aides take a closer look at the state's exit polls, there is certainly cause for concern, as 41% of Alabama voters "strongly disapproved" of the president, while only 32% "strongly approved". While Trump may dismiss opinion surveys that show his approval ratings in the mid-30s nationally, the Alabama results are actual voters casting actual ballots.
Among Democratic voters, African-Americans went to the voting booths in particularly strong numbers and voted overwhelmingly for Jones. According to exit polls, they accounted for nearly 30% of Tuesday's electorate, while only making up 26% of the state's total population. In 2016 lower black turnout proved costly for Mrs Clinton in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. In Alabama they were the Democratic lifeline.
Earlier, the president tried to claim he had always known Moore would lose, recalling his backing for opponent Luther Strange in the Republican primary that had preceded the special election. “The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily),” Trump wrote, “is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!” That is Trump double jump: had his candidate won, he would said have some something totally different. .
Cory Gardner, the head of the National Republican Senate Committee, which flatly refused to back Moore, said: “Tonight’s results are clear: the people of Alabama deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve in the US Senate.” Steven Law, the head of the McConnell-allied Senate Leadership Fund, said “This is a brutal reminder that candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running,” Law said. “Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the president of the United States into his fiasco.”
While national Republicans accepted defeat, at Moore’s election night event, the candidate and his supporters still held out hope.
Prior to Election Day, Alabama officials estimated that about 20% of Alabama registered voters would show up to vote in this special election. It's a trend that echoes the results in Virginia - the other big electoral test of 2017. In November, Democratic voter participation in that more narrowly-divided state surged, carrying the party's candidate for governor to an easy victory and nearly winning enough seats to take control of the state legislature. Progressives have touted their "resistance" to the Trump presidency, and it appears that - at least so far - their enthusiasm is translating into numbers at the ballot box. That will bode well for the party's prospects in the big congressional mid-term elections that loom on the horizon in November 2018.
The Republican candidate had a cloud of controversy hanging over his head - not just from allegations of sexual impropriety, but also a history of inflammatory statements and legal run-ins that knocked him out of the Alabama Supreme Court twice. The former judge had a loyal base of support, but there were traditionally Republican voters who found his views on homosexuality, Muslims and civil rights distasteful. Despite his obvious flaws as a candidate with any broad appeal, the impact of this defeat will be felt in several ways.
Democrats gain by default
What is it the Democrats stand for? Are they the party of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? What is their distinct economic message? How do they win back the blue collar workers (and a lot of other groups besides who went over to Donald Trump in 2016)?
The Democrats are right to bask in their success today. Why wouldn't you? But the problems that led them to lose in November 2016 have not gone away with their astonishing victory in Alabama.
The maverick Christian conservative Republican Party’s Judge Roy Moore , who enjoyed the full-throated supported of Steve Bannon, the slightly-more-tempered endorsement of Donald Trump and the outright antipathy of certain sections of the GOP, has failed in the reddest of red states.
It's not clear how much the allegations played a part in his defeat but politicians across the US will surely be taking note.
In the past week, three members of the US Congress - two Democrats and one Republican - have announced their resignations because of reports of sexual impropriety. While their actions hinted that there would be a political price in the new environment of sexual-harassment sensitivity, the true test would come at the ballot box. Moore faced accusations - which he denied - of improper relations with teenage girls when he was an assistant district attorney in his 30s.
It appeared possible that Alabama voters would elect him to the Senate anyway, with Moore's supporters arguing that their man had been vindicated or, perhaps, absolved by the voters.
Bannon, the self-declared Leninist wanting to rip down the walls of the establishment, looks a weaker man today. Not finished by any means, but certainly undermined. This is a result where you can be sure the Republican establishment will be savoring a Bannon defeat almost as much as the Democrats are rubbing their eyes in wonderment at their victory.
Donald Trump, aside from finding himself on the losing side - which his opponents will revel in - will now find getting legislation through the Senate much more difficult. There will now be 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats.
It means the awkward squad in the GOP now has much more leverage over legislation. Senators Flake and Corker, who are standing down and loathe Donald Trump, will need to be courted rather than abused by the president. Those of a more liberal bent might seek to rein in the president's more far-reaching proposals.
The problems that led the Democratic Hillary Clinton to lose in November 2016 have not gone away with their astonishing victory in Alabama. Democrats have to defend a number of at-risk seats - in Trump-leaning states like Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia and North Dakota - but if their incumbents manage to hold on, there are two clear pick-up opportunities in Nevada and Arizona.
Though they have got the US Senate seat for Alabama by default and not because they deserve it, but because the people hate Trump led Republicans.
Trump’s Jerusalem gimmick has not acted in favor of the Republican candidate for the post of senator in Alabama. This was not a decisive vote for Democratic Party politics; this was a referendum on erratic Trump’s presidency. A huge defeat for Trump as he thinks he has won Jerusalem. the Democrats. After a dreadful 18 months they have a victory to crow about. They have won in Alabama. Surely this is the platform for sweeping the board at the mid-terms! Taking back control of Congress! A hammer blow to the Trump presidency!
Moore's defeat amid allegations of child molestation and sexual assault could fuel growing calls from Democrats for Trump to resign from office over the accusations of sexual assault against him.
Jones has proved he is capable of causing a stunning upset in the ruby red Yellowhammer state. Now he'll be returning to work for the federal government for the first time since making his name with the church bombing prosecutions.
Needless to say - and understandably - most of the attention will fall on the humiliation this represents to Donald Trump, but the bigger loser is his erstwhile White House head of strategy Steve Bannon. Alabama was to be the Petri dish for next November's mid-term elections.
Alabama win brings the Democratic Party into focus once again. The Republican majority in the Senate narrows to 51-49 and the party can only afford to lose a single vote on any measure, thanks to Vice-President Mike Pence's power to break a tie. The Alabama seat was made vacant by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year. Alabama will have a Democrat in the US Senate. It's an outcome that seemed all but impossible a year ago and still seemed unlikely even as voters headed to the polls on Tuesday.
The Democratic victory will reduce the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49 once Jones takes his seat on Capitol Hill. This significantly reduces the margin for error as Republicans attempt to push through a major corporate tax cut. They already have one defector in senator Bob Corker, and Jones’s election means a single additional Republican breaking ranks would sink the legislation.
The ramifications of this unexpected victory are clear. The Republican majority in the Senate will narrow, considerably improving the chances Democrats could gain control of the chamber in the 2018 mid-term elections. It could also be seen as a rebuke of President Donald Trump, who gave full-throated support to Roy Moore even when other leaders in his party were hesitant. After winning governor races in Virginia and New Jersey in November, some Democratic supporters will be hoping that an anti-Trump electoral wave is forming.
Elections don't lie, and the election results have a serious message for the president less than a year into his term. It's a line of defense not too different from the one being constructed by the White House, as allegations made by more than a dozen women President Donald Trump have received renewed consideration. "The people of this country, at a decisive election, supported President Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process.
Jones probably won't be seated until early January, which means the Republicans still have time to pass their tax-cut bill and vote on any year-end budgetary resolutions, but after that the window for legislative success narrows considerably. More than that, it also puts control of the Senate squarely in play in the 2018 mid-term congressional elections. If they had lost the Alabama race, the next tier of states - Tennessee and Texas - were much bigger reaches.
Of course, Alabama has shown that, given the right confluence of candidates and controversy, anything is possible.