The lead in Alabama’s tumultuous special election to fill a Senate seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions has gone back and forth. At this point, embattled former state Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore has the lead in voter surveys, but not a decisive one. Most prognosticators, including Southern Political Report, call it a toss-up.
Jones led in polls taken a few days after the Washington Post’s allegations concerning Moore’s misbehavior with young women came out. But in four recent polls, taken several weeks after the story was published, Moore led by margins ranging from 2 points to 6 points. The latest poll, however, released Dec. 2 by the Washington Post, showed Jones ahead, with 50% to Moore’s 47%. The latest Real Clear Politics average of the four most recent polls showed Moore ahead with 49.0% to 46.5% for Jones, a 2.5 point lead for Moore, not a decisive margin.
Whatever the size of Moore’s lead at this point, Jones has a big advantage in fundraising that could help him turn the race in his favor. In the period between Oct. 1 and Nov. 22, Jones brought in $10.2 million while Moore raised a mere $1.8 million. Jones has also spent more, about $8.7 million to Moore’s $1.7 million. And Jones had $2.5 million cash-on-hand as of Nov. 22, while Moore had $640,000. But Moore was vastly outspent by incumbent-by-appointment US Sen. Luther Strange (R) in the GOP primary and runoff, and won handily.
Marty Connors, a former state Republican chairman, believes the accusations against Moore were made public too soon. “The shockwave has gone through the state,” giving Moore’s proponents time to call the accusations into question to some extent. “The first accusing woman won’t give up her year book” to analyze what she purports to be Moore’s handwriting, says Connors. “Now Gloria Allred is representing her. That tells you all you need to know.”
As for the charge that Moore was banned from a shopping mall because of his behavior toward young women, “The manager of the mall says it is not true that Moore was banned from the mall and says he will vote for Moore.”
Indeed, according to one poll the percentage of voters who believe the accusations has shrunk, from 46% to 42%.
Just how fluid the electorate is at this point is unclear. Dr. Gerald Johnson, Auburn University Emeritus Professor of Political Science, says that voters have “such fixed positions: Trump supporters, Moore supporters, Republicans, Democrats. There’s just not as much movement among independents and moderates as I would have thought.”
There may be several soft spots among traditional Republican voters, however. The most critical is suburban and Republican women who are turned off by Moore. “Will they vote for Jones or just stay home?” asks Dr. Jess Brown, professor emeritus at Alabama’s
Athens State University. “The Democrats are doing everything possible to siphon off suburban votes,” says Connors. “By the way, that’s the same strategy I would have,” says this former GOP official. One issue that Moore is using to try to keep Republican women in his camp is by stressing that he is pro-life, while Jones is pro-choice.
“What business leaders do is also important,” says Brown, noting they like to go up to Washington for quiet meetings with their senators to get them to bring home the bacon. “But the day [Moore] walks in the door up there, he’s radioactive.”
President Trump may or may not be much help to Moore. Trump has said that Jones “would be a disaster.” The President will not be campaigning for Moore, but is holding a rally of his own in Pensacola, Florida, only 15 miles from Alabama, on December 5, a week before the election. The same day, Steve Bannon, head of Breitbart News and a former top advisor to President Trump, will appear in Alabama at a rally for Moore. But then President Trump strongly supported Strange in the Republican Primary and was unable to sway the vote.
The self-proclaimed write-in candidate, Retired Marine Corps Col. Lee Busby, a former top aide to Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly, is expected to have little impact. He has no money or advertising. “I don’t even know the fellow’s name,” says Connors. “If I don’t know it, I can’t imagine many voters know it” and thus aren’t likely to write it in. “I don’t see [Busby] getting anywhere,” says Brown, “unless outside money comes in.”
Turn-out, as always, is the key ingredient. “Generally speaking, the higher the turnout, Jones benefits,” says Brown. Moore, on the other hand, depends on his core group. “It’s up to Jones to get out the vote, particularly the minority vote,” says Johnson. He adds, “It’s also critical whether Dec. 12 will resemble a regular general election. If so, 25% of the vote will be African Americans. Jones has to have it.” There is a state Senate race in Montgomery, with two black candidates opposing each other. “This will help boost turnout there and benefit Jones,” says Johnson.
There have been some indications that the Jones campaign’s emphasis on the suburbs, and suburban women in particular, may have made some black leaders feel neglected. One question: Will there be enough “street money” to boost turnout among low-interest voters?
So don’t bet the farm on Jones or Moore. This highly controversial, incredibly graphic, and very important Senate election could go either way.