The Senate race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is a Tuesday night cliffhanger, as votes are counted in a state where the GOP candidate would normally be an easy winner.
The big question: whether the allegations against Moore of sexually abusing teens and his history of controversial comments about women and minorities will be enough for a reliably red state to elect its first Democratic senator in a generation.
A Jones win would trim the Republican Senate majority to 51-49 and deal a blow to President Donald Trump, who has backed Moore amid the national conversation over sexual misconduct.
Exit polls were virtually split as to whether voters believed the allegations against Moore: 49% said they were probably or definitely true while 45% said they were probably or definitely false. A majority of the electorate, 57%, decided who to support before news of Moore’s alleged child molestation and sexual assault broke in November.
Moore — following his Election Day tradition — arrived at his polling place with his wife, Kayla, on horseback in his hometown of Gallant. He told reporters that voters “ought to go out and vote their conscience, and we’ll have a tremendous turnout.”
Jones voted early Tuesday morning at Brookwood Baptist Church in Mountain Brook. Speaking with reporters, he cast the election as an opportunity for Alabama voters to reject the embarrassment that Moore — who’s been ousted twice as state Supreme Court chief justice and has attacked LGBT Americans, Muslims and women — could bring the state.
“In Alabama we have come so far with too many things, and there is saying: ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ Alabama is not going to let that shame happen again,” he said.
The stakes are high for Trump — who has repeatedly endorsed Moore, campaigned in Florida just outside Alabama on Friday night and doesn’t want to see the GOP’s 52-48 majority trimmed at all.
“The people of Alabama will do the right thing. Doug Jones is Pro-Abortion, weak on Crime, Military and Illegal Immigration, Bad for Gun Owners and Veterans and against the WALL. Jones is a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet. Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday morning.
There’s much on the line for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as well. McConnell decided Moore wasn’t worth the headache and withdrew support for him — which means the Senate Republican campaign arm and a super PAC that usually backs its candidates were nowhere to be found in the closing weeks in Alabama.
The exit poll showed that Trump’s approval rating among Alabama voters is 47%. He’s much more popular than McConnell, who is seen favorably by just 16% of voters.
It all takes place amid a broader national conversation about sexual misconduct. At the center of the Trump-McConnell split over Alabama is that McConnell said the allegations facing Moore are credible, while Trump — who faces allegations of sexual assault himself — cast doubt on Moore’s accusers.
Alabama’s other senator, Republican Richard Shelby, told CNN’s Dana Bash on Tuesday that he didn’t vote for Moore and it’ll be up to GOP leadership to pursue an Ethics Committee investigation if Moore wins. Such a move could be the first step toward Moore’s expulsion from the Senate.
“Well, I think that’s up to the leadership and the Ethics Committee itself. They always look to anyone’s fitness to serve” in the Senate, Shelby said.
Turnout by race
Jones’ campaign will benefit from high African-American turnout. Black voters made up 30% of the electorate, CNN’s exit poll showed — higher than the 27% they comprised in the 2012 presidential election and above the marks the Jones campaign felt it needed to hit in order to have a chance. Of those black voters, 95% backed Jones, the exit poll showed.
But white voters, who overwhelmingly support Republicans in Alabama, didn’t cross over at the rate the Jones campaign had hoped. Just 27% of white voters backed Jones, compared to 70% for Moore.
Moore won 59% of white college graduates and 78% of white non-college graduates, the exit poll showed.