BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) — Alabama voters gave Democrat Doug Jones a longshot victory Tuesday, electing him to the U.S. Senate by a 1.5 percentage point edge over former judge Roy Moore, reducing Republicans’ margin of control of the Senate to one seat.
Heavy black turnout and strong support from the suburbs helped Jones, a former federal prosecutor, beat back support in rural Alabama. Jones won 68 percent of the vote in greater Birmingham, which includes some wealthy, heavily white suburbs, and collected more votes than Alabamians gave to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Jones took 49.9 percent of the votes, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, to Moore’s 48.4 percent. By early morning Moore refused to concede, though Jones led him by 31,311 votes: 670,551 to 649,240. The state Republican Party indicated it would not support Moore’s suggestion that he would demand a recall. Moore told his election night party that he would ask the secretary of state to explain Alabama’s recount rules.
Because Jones’s margin of victory was more than 1 percent, an automatic recount will not be triggered. Write-in and military votes must reduce the margin to 0.5 percent for a recount to be required. But Moore stubbornly refused to concede. “Realize that when the vote is this close that it’s not over,” he said. “We also know that God is always in control.”
The Associated Press called the election for Jones around 9:24 p.m., Alabama time.
At his own election night party Jones told supporters, some of whom were crying: “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 which ZIP code you live in is going to get a fair shake.”
Set against a nationwide awakening about pervasive sexual harassment and the need to correct it, Moore throughout the campaign denied allegations from nine women that he had sexually harassed or assaulted them when they were teens and he was in his thirties. The most disturbing report came from a woman who said Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 14. Moore denied it all and called the women liars manipulated by Democrats.
President Donald Trump tweeted congratulations to Jones, who was elected to fill the seat left vacant by Jeff Sessions when he was appointed attorney general.
“Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory,” Trump tweeted. “The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!”
Alabamians gave Trump a 24-point victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, with 62.1 percent of the vote. The enormous turnaround on Tuesday, despite Trump’s endorsement of Moore, gave Democrats renewed hope of capturing one or both houses of Congress in the 2018 midterms, and Republicans expressed concern that their strength may be dwindling in what several Republican officials and advisers have described as the party’s civil war.
The Tuesday election was viewed as a loss for a leader of that civil war, onetime Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who advised Moore and campaigned for him heavily in Alabama.
Moore was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court, first for refusing to remove a giant monument to the Ten Commandments he’d had installed at the Alabama Justice Building in 2003.
He was re-elected to the state supreme court, and booted again after he told his state’s probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme order in Obergfell v. Hodges, recognizing same-sex marriage.
Jones, appointed as U.S. attorney in 1997, made his name by successfully prosecuting two surviving Klan members who bombed Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, killing 4 young black girls, catalyzing passage of the Civil Rights Act a year later.
On Election Day voters in Hoover, Alabama, Birmingham’s largest suburb, expressed a mix of sentiments that have characterized this tumultuous year in politics.
Cindy Killen, 53, said she was concerned about the allegations against Moore, but voted for him anyway. “I didn’t feel good about this vote, but I want to support my party and I want to support President Trump,” she said.
Christy Rogers, 43, a lifelong Republican, said she voted for Jones to send a message to her party: “I will not align myself with any candidate, especially in my own party, who has even a hint of a chance of being a sexual predator of children,” she said. “I will not allow myself to be manipulated to vote the ‘party line’ based on one issue, abortion, when in fact, that issue is not a priority to the party at all.”
Anthony Smith, 28, said he couldn’t vote for Moore due to the sexual allegations. “We, as men, have to learn to be more respectful of women,” he said.
Jack Helean, a 31-year-old graphic designer based in Mobile, designed a logo and yard signs for Alabama Republicans who jumped parties to support Jones.
“I consider myself an independent,” Helean told Courthouse News by email. “I didn’t vote for Trump or Clinton in 2016.The reason I chose to back Jones this time is because I don’t want Alabama to fall any farther behind the rest of the country.”
After Moore won his run-off primary against incumbent, appointed Senator Luther Strange, Helean decided to support Jones. In early October he designed a logo for a Facebook page called “Republicans for Doug Jones” and offered it to the group.
“I thought with my graphic design and media communications training, I could start some kind of movement behind Jones for Republicans who are moderates or left-leaning on social issues, by making a good-looking logo they could rally behind, that they could be proud to have in their front yard, or on a bumper sticker, or a social media profile picture it would help to unify the movement,” Helean said.
He said that by early November he’d received “a few hundred orders” from people in the Huntsville, Birmingham and Mobile suburbs.
Helean said he’d never been involved in Republican Party politics, and voted only in presidential election years. Tuesday was the first time he’d voted in a state election, he said, and he plans to be more politically involved in the future.
Former Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors said the special election was such a big deal in the Heart of Dixie it temporarily displaced Alabama’s preoccupation with football.
“They’re talking more about this than they were the Iron Bowl,” Connors said of the annual game between Auburn and the University of Alabama. (Sixth-ranked Auburn beat top-ranked Alabama this year, 26-14.)
“The Senate is down to Pence breaking a lot of votes,” Connors said. “So [Vice President Mike] Pence is going to have to have a cot behind the chair and preside over the Senate quite a bit.”
Connors worried that Jones’s win will create a “very dangerous precedent” in U.S. political campaigns.
“The precedent here,” he said, “is that both parties will know if you find some dirt on somebody, and you find somebody willing to say that, then you can have an election based on dirt and not based on public policy debate. And that in many, many ways has become the issue here.”
In the weekend before the election, several Republican senators said Moore would have to face the Senate Ethics Committee if he were elected.
A Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday showed nearly two out of three Americans believe the Senate should vote to expel Moore were he elected. When asked in another question if the Senate would damage the Republican Party’s reputation if it refuses to expel Moore, 26 percent of Republicans said the inaction would, while 65 percent said no.
In a third question, Quinnipiac asked if respondents would vote for a candidate who was accused of “sexual harassment by multiple people.” Sixty-six percent of respondents said they would “definitely not vote” for such a candidate. Among Democrats, 84 percent said they would not vote for such a candidate; 34 percent of Republicans said they would not and another 18 percent said they did not know or did not answer.
Courthouse News reporter Tracey Dalzell Walsh contributed to this report.