Democrat Doug Jones’ victory in Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election gained national attention, and some of the spotlight has lingered as politicos on both sides of the aisle analyze Republican Roy Moore’s unexpected defeat and what it might mean for the very red state going forward.
While the result was noteworthy, Moore’s behavior since the election has only added to the intrigue. More than a week afterward, his campaign is still refusing to concede defeat and his supporters are continuing to push theories of voter fraud that, as of yet, remain unsubstantiated.
In his only public statement since election day, Moore addressed supporters in a Dec. 13 video message suggesting outstanding military and provisional ballots could possibly change the results once they’re counted. Election officials have said that’s “unlikely.”
While Moore continues to hold out hope, the Republican party appears to have moved on, with President Donald Trump and state GOP Chairman Terry Lathan both acknowledging Jones’ victory. Lathan did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment on Moore’s refusal to concede the election, though Trump has since encouraged Moore to do so directly.
The president has also tweeted on more than one occasion that he knew “Moore would lose.”
For Alabama Democrats, Jones’ victory was no doubt a monumental victory, but national pundits have tried to position the result as an indictment of Trump and the Republican Party.
State Democratic Party Chair Nancy Worley went so far as to say it was “a clear signal that Alabama Democrats will be on the offensive and ready to win in 2018.” Yet Joseph L. Smith, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Alabama, believes Moore’s loss says more about his own lack of popularity than it does the state of Alabama’s GOP.
Despite Jones’ win, Smith believes “Alabama is still a Republican state.”
“I think this election was a product of a uniquely unappealing candidate. Moore is appealing to a certain proportion of Alabama Republicans, maybe half, but he is also embarrassing to a significant portion [as well],” Smith added. “I think, if the party nominates broadly acceptable candidates, it will continue to dominate statewide elections.”
In total, more than 1.3 million votes were cast, which broke turnout records for special elections in Alabama. The average turnout was around 35 percent across the state, though it was slightly higher in Mobile County, where roughly 38 percent of registered voters participated.
While Trump didn’t start his campaign as a “mainstream” candidate, he received broad support from Alabama Republicans in the presidential election, but statewide totals show Moore did not enjoy the same support.
Though turnout is typically low in special elections, Moore only received 650,436 votes — about half of Trump’s 1.3 million statewide. On the other hand, 729,547 Alabamians cast votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 while Jones collected only 671,151 votes but still managed to carry the state.
Taken together, the numbers indicate Democrats didn’t gain new voters; rather, Moore managed to lose voters, which is evidenced by the massive number of write-in votes cast.
According to Secretary of State John Merrill’s office, 22,814 write-in votes were cast across the state during the special election. For context, just 3,631 write-ins were counted during last year’s race for Sen. Richard Shelby’s seat.
While the names on those ballots likely won’t be disclosed, the prevailing assumption is that a majority of them were cast by Republicans voting for someone other than Moore — something many normally conservative voters said they intended to do after multiple women accused Moore of sexual misconduct during his tenure as an Etowah County prosecutor in the late ‘70s.
Shelby himself cast a write-in vote for “a good candidate” after stating publicly that he could not support Moore. Shelby has since drawn the ire of many Moore supporters in the GOP, though not all of the response to his write-in vote has been negative.
In fact, during his only trip to Alabama since the election, reports indicate a number of people greeted Shelby with handshakes and “thank yous” when he arrived at the Birmingham Airport, which, notably, is located in a county Jones won by a sizable margin.
Given the partisan nature of modern politics, the conservative backlash seemed almost inevitable. That’s led some to ponder whether Shelby’s current term, which ends in 2023, might be the 83-year-old senator’s last in Washington.
Smith told Lagniappe that isn’t a bad bet, and suggested “that may have made [Shelby] more willing to say what he did” about Moore. Shelby has not discussed any plans to retire, but even if he did, Smith said he doesn’t think his personal vote last week will define his legacy.
“He’s such a prominent and respected figure in Alabama Republican political circles that I don’t think anyone would challenge his right to speak his mind,” Smith added.
Another focal point of post-election analysis has been the impact of African-American voters. Exit polls by CNN indicated black voters made up 30 percent of the the electorate, and Jones secured 98 percent and 93 percent of votes among black women and men, respectively.
There were national efforts to energize black voters in Alabama, including a robocall recorded by former President Barack Obama and events featuring black legislators, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia).
Groups in Alabama made similar efforts. The statewide NAACP held a rally in Birmingham days before the election, and individual chapters around the state made concentrated efforts to turn out black voters in Huntsville, Tuskegee, Mobile and other cities.
Reached by Lagniappe, Mobile County NAACP President David Smith said the local organization focused on “honesty, education and information” to get people to exercise a right to vote that hasn’t always available to everyone.
“The main point is there were people who died years ago in order to have the opportunity to vote,” Smith said. “The choices are up to the individuals, their conscience and their awareness of their circumstances. We don’t do persuasion, and we don’t do endorsements; we’re about educating folks and reminding them what it took to get black and poor people this opportunity.”
While he’s mostly kept quiet since the election, Moore sent a message to supporters over the weekend seeking to raise $75,000 to help his campaign compile reports of “voter fraud and other irregularities” related to the special election.
While several pro-Moore social media accounts have pushed claims that Jones’ victory was tainted by Democratic voter fraud, most of those have been disproven. Jones did, however, receive a significant amount of out-of-state support — from volunteers who helped with voter registration and minority outreach, to donations from national Democratic groups that put millions into “get-out-the-vote” efforts in Alabama.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent aides to assist the Jones campaign directly, while grassroots liberal organizations such as Indivisible, the Human Rights Campaign, NextGen America and Open Progress lent talent and time to organizers on the ground.
Then there was Highway 31, a super PAC that spent close to $2 million on pro-Jones advertisements in Alabama, some of which were publicly criticized as misleading. At this point it is unclear whether the money Highway 31 spent came from outside Alabama, because in its only public filings no donors or expenditures were disclosed.
Instead, the group appears to have financed its ad campaign on debt, a common tactic that can delay the disclosure of donors until after elections. Alabamians won’t know whose money went into those pro-Jones ads until Highway 31 files its post-election report in January.