The southern state of Alabama is the center of the U.S. political universe this week as voters on Tuesday choose a senator to replace Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to become attorney general. The race pits controversial Republican Roy Moore, who is battling sexual harassment allegations, against Democrat Doug Jones, a former prosecutor. The outcome of the race could have national implications for both political parties and for President Donald Trump.
Moore has denied several allegations of sexual misconduct when he was in his 30s involving women who were teenagers at the time, including one who was 14.
“I do not know them. I had no encounter with them. I never molested anyone,” Moore said in a televised interview Sunday with the Voice of Alabama Politics.
Jones says the accusations make Moore unfit to serve in the Senate.
“It is crystal clear that these women are telling the truth and Roy Moore is not!” Jones said.
Trump behind Moore
Trump recorded a get-out-the-vote phone message for Moore and spoke on his behalf at a rally in neighboring Florida on Friday.
“And we want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it,” he said.
Trump held off on endorsing Moore for several weeks in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations, but now says electing Moore is a priority for him.
“We certainly don’t want to have a liberal Democrat who is controlled by Nancy Pelosi and controlled by Chuck Schumer. We don’t want to have that for Alabama,” Trump said.
In the final days of the campaign, Moore is highlighting his support for the president’s agenda.
“We are going to see if the people of Alabama will support the president and support his agenda in Washington by electing somebody that is not part of the establishment there,” Moore said.
Democrat Jones told supporters that Moore’s character is the issue. “We know who we are, Alabama, we know who we are. This is an election to tell the world who we are and what we stand for.”
Several Senate Republicans, including majority leader Mitch McConnell, have called on Moore to quit the race.
“If he were to be elected, he would immediately have an Ethics Committee case, and the committee would take a look at the situation and give us advice,” McConnell said.
McConnell now says he will leave it to Alabama voters to render a judgment on Moore.
Alabama’s senior Senator Richard Shelby said on Sunday that he did not support Moore and wrote in another name on his ballot instead. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine told CBS’s Face the Nation that the Senate will “have a very tough decision to make” if Moore wins the race Tuesday. Moore could face a move to expel him depending on whether there is an Ethics Committee probe.
Several Senate Democrats said they will push for Moore’s ouster if he is elected. Democrats last week prevailed upon Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota to announce that he would be resigning soon in the wake of sexual allegations made against him.
Some Republicans worry that if Moore is victorious, he could become a rallying cry for Democrats looking to spur voter turnout in next year’s congressional midterm elections.
“Roy Moore, if he does win, is the gift that keeps on giving in terms of Democratic politics,” said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
Given the recent ouster of Franken and veteran Michigan House Democrat John Conyers, some analysts believe a Moore victory could be damaging for Republicans in next year’s elections.
“Their outrage has been squared or cubed by recent events. And if Roy Moore is elected to the Senate, you could expect that level of outrage to go even higher,” said Brookings Institution scholar Bill Galston.
The Alabama race could also impact the balance of power in the Senate. Republicans currently hold a narrow 52-to-48 seat edge, but a victory by Jones would cut the margin to 51 to 49, possibly making it even more challenging for Trump to get some of his agenda through Congress.