Alabama Democrat Doug Jones enjoys nearly every structural advantage heading into the Senate special election Tuesday.
A wide fundraising lead, a sustained advertising blitz, and a deeply flawed opponent in Roy Moore have combined to jolt the former U.S. attorney’s once-long-shot campaign and create an unexpectedly close race.
But there is plenty of skepticism among Republicans that those assets can outweigh Jones’s greatest liability: He’s a Democrat.
“There are a lot of issues at stake that are bigger and broader than Roy Moore,” Republican strategist David Ferguson said. “Voters are not willing to go back and be represented by a Democrat.”
Amid the string of sexual-misconduct allegations against Moore, several Republican strategists conceded that the race is now roiled by far more uncertainty than just weeks ago when both parties viewed it as an easy GOP victory.
Jones holds a staggering financial edge after raising $9.9 million to Moore’s $1.7 million from Oct. 1 to Nov. 22. Among the candidates and supportive outside groups, Democrats have spent $8.4 million to Republicans’ $1.6 million on TV alone so far, according to a Democratic source tracking ad buys. (The GOP figure does not include the $1.1 million that the pro-Moore America First Policies has vowed to spend.)
The National Republican Senatorial Committee and the super PAC affiliated with Senate leadership have declined to help Moore, who faces the prospect of an immediate ethics committee investigation upon taking his seat in the Senate.
“Every development in the race has favored Doug Jones,” Alabama-based Democratic pollster Zac McCrary said. “It now feels like a coin flip.”
Still, Republican strategists increasingly believe Moore will win in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since Richard Shelby, who is now a Republican, in 1992.
President Trump’s endorsement Monday and the Republican National Committee’s ensuing infusion of cash into the race provided Moore his biggest break yet after weeks of negative headlines. Trump is following up his support with a campaign-style rally in Pensacola, Fla., miles from the Alabama border.
“Donald Trump ignites our GOP base like no other surrogate can,” said Moore campaign strategist Brett Doster, who added that the RNC’s “support for our ground operations is vital for our success.”
Meanwhile, national Democrats have kept Jones at arm’s length throughout the campaign, wary that their association could tar their nominee’s chances in the deeply conservative state. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, emphasized to National Journal last month that Jones is running a local race.
“Obviously we are very supportive, but I want to stress that this is … an organic Alabama-based campaign,” he said.
That approach has been welcomed by Jones’s campaign.
“We don’t want anybody out of state telling us how to pick our vote,” Jones campaign chairman Giles Perkins said.
Initially, Jones refrained from emphasizing allegations of Moore’s predatory behavior with teenage girls. But he is now making them a central part of the race, saying in a speech Tuesday that “men who hurt little girls should go to jail and not the United States Senate.” Moore has denied all of the allegations.
Asked about the shift, Jones campaign chairman Giles Perkins said, “We believe these women, and we think that Roy Moore ought to answer to the allegations,” while adding that the campaign doesn’t view it as a change in strategy.
Jones’s success relies on drawing in some disaffected Republican voters, while taking full advantage of the Democratic base. That includes maximizing support from suburban women in the counties surrounding the state’s biggest cities and mobilizing African-Americans, who make up about a quarter of Alabama’s electorate.
One area to watch is the Black Belt, a swath of more than a dozen rural counties with a significant African-American population that stretch across the state. That’s where Jones’s record of prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham could be of particular help.
As Moore continues battling his allegations, GOP leaders are still not only openly embracing Moore, and in recent interviews they have sounded resigned to the fact that he won’t drop out.
There are already rumblings of Republicans looking to challenge Moore in the 2020 election, when he would be on the ballot for a full term. Ferguson, who managed former Gov. Robert Bentley’s primary campaign in 2010, said he has been approached by several potential GOP candidates but declined to share any names.
For now, though, the Moore campaign and Trump have utilized the allegations to drive turnout.
“All of the attention on Roy Moore hasn’t just ginned up the people who don’t like Roy Moore,” said Jonathan Gray, an Alabama GOP strategist. “It’s ginned up the Republican base too.”
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