In a major projected upset in a historically red state, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore by a razor slim margin, ending a contentious campaign in which President Donald Trump endorsed the bombastic Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct and overtures involving teenage girls. CNN, Fox News, and The Associated Press projected Jones, a former U.S. attorney, as the victor about 2.5 hours after the polls closed.
However, Moore’s campaign chairman Bill Armistead said that military ballots had not yet been counted. Roy Moore then took the stage. “I really want to thank you for coming tonight and realize when the vote is this close, it is not over, and we still have to go by the rules by this recount provision,” Moore said at about 10:30 p.m. on December 12. “We also know that God is always in control. Part of the problem with this campaign is we have been painted in an unfavorable and unfaithful light. We’ve been put in a hole if you will.” He then read a Bible verse. Asked by CNN whether a recount could cause any outcome other than Jones winning, Secretary of State John Merrill said: “I would find that highly unlikely to occur.”
Jones built a projected victory on the “enthusiasm factor” and flipped several Trump counties: Strong turnout in Democratic bulwarks, including among African-American, suburban, and large city voters, in a state that hadn’t elected a Democratic Senator statewide for a quarter of a century. Moore had created other controversies in addition to the sexual misconduct accusations that hobbled his campaign; “I think it was great at a time when families were united, even though we had slavery, they cared for one another,” he said, sparking outrage. “People were strong in the families. Our families were strong, our country had a direction, and we corrected many of the problems.” There was a turnout factor: Rural voters and Republicans stayed home. Moore was already a controversial candidate in Alabama, with a history of incendiary remarks and close elections.
It’s sure to be written by many as a defeat for Trump, who won Alabama by a large margin, and who went all in for Moore despite once endorsing his primary opponent, the short-term incumbent Luther Strange. The defeat is also bad news for former White House advisor, Steve Bannon, who was an architect of a Moore victory that appears to not have come. The race was extremely tight, with a 1.5 percentage point projected Jones victory with 100 percent in. The Senate Leadership Fund was already blaming Bannon.
The president tweeted shortly after Jones’ victory and largely blamed it on write-in votes. “Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. 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!” Trump wrote. Jones outspent Moore 6 to 1 on campaign advertising.
Note: The results table below is powered by the Decision Desk HQ.
“This campaign has been about dignity and respect,” Jones said in his victory speech. “This campaign is about the rule of law. This campaign is about common courtesy and decency.” Jones added that he believed the election results were about finding “common ground.” The election was extremely close, and it went down to the wire, with Democratic turnout pulling Jones over the edge. “Alabama has been at a crossroads,” said Jones. “…we have usually taken the wrong fork. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you took the right road.”
You can watch video of the candidates’ speeches here:
How do recount laws work in Alabama? According to Alabama election law, a recount is automatically triggered if the margin is less than or equal to 0.5 percent. The losing candidate could submit a written waiver of the recount. If the results are close, but not within 0.5 percent, a losing candidate may petition for a recount of any or all precinct returns within 48 hours, according to state law.
“The petitioner must be prepared to pay the cost of the recount and shall give security to cover these costs. The canvassing authority shall set the amount of the security based upon an estimate of actual costs,” state law says.
The Alabama Senate race for Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat went dramatically down too the wire, as the results brought the unusual Roy Moore–Doug Jones contest to a dramatic conclusion that was uncertain until the last tallies were in (and, according to Moore, remained so afterwards). With 92 percent of the votes in, for example, the race was tied.
The areas still not counted, such as in the Democratic stronghold of Jefferson County, boded well for Jones, and cheering erupted at Jones’ headquarters as the race essentially tied and then erupted again when he appeared to have won. No one had called the race yet, at that point, but prediction meters were also trending to Jones. It was a contest in a historically red state marked by sexual misconduct accusations against Moore, some of which involved underage teenagers, and the involvement of Trump, who lobbed condemnatory tweets in Jones’ direction, comparing Jones to a Chuck Schumer-Nancy Pelosi puppet as voters headed to the polls.
The election could have had consequences beyond the borders of Alabama when it comes to defining Republicans’ positioning on the sexual harassment allegations overall that have swept from Hollywood to Washington D.C. The polls closed on December 12, 2017 at 7 p.m. central time. Moore in the Senate would have set up a quandary for the Senate GOP leadership, who would have had to decide whether to launch an ethics investigation or even try to oust him against the voters’ wishes.
Moore, the former state Supreme Court justice who was removed over his Ten Commandments monument defiance, was hammered with a series of accusations that he made overtures to teenage girls, and, in one case, had sexual contact with a 14-year-old. He fervently denied the allegations, and highlighted one accuser’s admissions that she wrote part of a yearbook entry she said he signed. Moore’s wife, Kayla Moore, came out in strident defense of her husband, although her own comments on the campaign trail (such as saying, “one of our attorneys is a Jew”) caused a stir. Moore and his wife rode to their polling place on horses.
The polls had looked promising for Moore, who led in most of them in the final days of the race, but they were also volatile, a fact attributed in part to the fact that Jones did better when human pollsters were used.
Jones is a former U.S. Attorney. Jones was born in Fairfield, Alabama, in 1954, to a steelworker and stay-at-home mother, and Jones himself worked in the steel mills between school terms as a young man. He attended Fairfield High School during the state’s desegregation of public schools and went on to study political science at the University of Alabama, graduating in 1976. In 1979, he earned a juris doctor from Samford University, Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama, and entered public service immediately thereafter. From 1979 to 1980, he worked as a staff counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, and from 1980 to 1984, he served as the assistant United States attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.
Jones then left the public sector for a private practice law firm, where he stayed until 1997 when President Bill Clinton nominated him to return to the Department of Justice outpost in Alabama’s Northern District and serve as a U.S. attorney. After four years on the job, he returned to private practice, and is currently a shareholder at Jones & Hawley, PC, a Birmingham law firm he co-founded.
Before throwing his hat into Moore’s ring, the president endorsed Moore’s former primary opponent, the incumbent Republican Luther Strange, but in the final days of the special election, he directed his ire at Jones, writing recently, “The people of Alabama will do the right thing. Doug Jones is Pro-Abortion, weak on Crime, Military and Illegal Immigration, Bad for Gun Owners and Veterans and against the WALL. Jones is a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet. Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!”
Bombastic and defiant, underfunded, prone to controversial statements (including about Vladimir Putin), and railing against Washington elites, Moore, ironically, may have captured some of the narrative that propelled Trump into the White House, but with different results. He’s also a Vietnam veteran and former prosecutor. Moore, a Republican, received national attention for his defiance over the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage. Moore brings religion into public life frequently in his positions and commentary. The election occurred against the national backdrop as sexual harassment accusations exploded as a controversy from Hollywood to D.C.
The Washington Post broke the story of sexual misconduct accusations against Moore, focusing on four women, although the number of accusers later grew. In the Washington Post story, one woman alleged sexual contact when she was 14 and Moore was 32. “Wendy Miller says she was 14 and working as a Santa’s helper at the Gadsden Mall when Moore first approached her, and 16 when he asked her on dates, which her mother forbade. Debbie Wesson Gibson says she was 17 when Moore spoke to her high school civics class and asked her out on the first of several dates that did not progress beyond kissing. Gloria Thacker Deason says she was an 18-year-old cheerleader when Moore began taking her on dates that included bottles of Mateus Rosé wine. The legal drinking age in Alabama was 19,” the newspaper reported. The story starts with accuser Leigh Corfman, who says she “had sexual contact with Moore that went beyond kissing. She says they did not have intercourse.” She was 14 at the time. He was 32, and a single assistant district attorney, and the year was 1979.
Moore won re-election in Alabama after being removed from the state’s highest court over the monuments issue. However, he was “suspended for declining to enforce the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriages. After losing an appeal, he resigned in April,” reports Politico. He re-emerged to run for Sessions’ seat, which the senator vacated to become Trump’s Attorney General, knocking off the short-term incumbent, Strange, in the primary.
According to his Chief Justice biography, Moore “graduated from Etowah High School in Attalla, Alabama, in 1965, and from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1969. He served in the U.S. Army as a company commander with the Military Police Corps in Vietnam. Chief Justice Moore completed his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Alabama School of Law in 1977.”
See below for our running updates of developments from election night through the moment the race was called, including exit polls. There is a summary of the race beneath the live updates.
UPDATE, 9:29 p.m.
CNN projected Doug Jones will win, as did the Associated Press.
If there is a recount, how will that unfold? You can read more about recount procedures in Alabama here.
UPDATE, 9:28 p.m.
What a nailbiter. With 92 percent in, the race is tied. Suburban women in the Birmingham area hurt Moore, according to Fox News’ analysts. Other experts were saying what’s left bodes well for Jones.
34 percent of Jefferson County, a key Democratic stronghold, was still outstanding.
UPDATE, 8:23 p.m.
The New York Times Upshot experts think the GOP may have a turnout problem. This has always been a peril for Moore: Would Republicans, disgusted by the sexual misconduct allegations but not willing to vote for Doug Jones on the issues, simply stay home? The “enthusiasm factor” could be decisive.
The race has tightened with nearly 50 percent in. Moore leads, but only 49 to almost 47. In counties where he won in 2012 in a close chief justice election, Moore held about the same margin as he did in that race.
UPDATE, 8:14 p.m.
The experts are predicting a very long night. This is going to be close. The New York Times’ Upshot prediction meter has swung back and forth all night, but now it’s saying that Jones is 64 percent likely to win. However, on Twitter, the site’s experts urged caution.
Still, there were some good signs for Jones; Jones did far better in Russell County than expected.
With 40 percent in, Moore was winning 51-46.
With 27 percent in, Moore was up 54 percent to 44 percent, but what really matters is where the votes are coming from (see above). Both candidates were doing well in their bases, which means turnout will be crucial.
UPDATE, 7:59 p.m.
With 17 percent in, Moore leads 50-48.
With 7 percent in, Moore was ahead for the first time with 53 percent to 45 percent. But there’s still so much ground to cover. Moore is under performing the Trump 2016 election tallies in some areas. Of course, Moore could still under perform Trump and win because Trump defeated Hillary Clinton 62 percent to 34 percent in Alabama.
Still, there’s a lot for Jones to like so far.
But the New York Times’ Upshot prediction meter has moved the race back to “toss up.” Then, a few minutes later to 53 percent tipped to Moore. Upshot explains why:
UPDATE: 7:37 p.m.
Mitch McConnell’s former campaign manager and chief of staff trolls Steve Bannon.
UPDATE: 7:46 p.m.
The New York Times’ Upshot prediction dial has moved to 51% Jones victory. Although the results are still too small to be truly meaningful, they are good for Jones so far.
UPDATE: 7:27 p.m.
First precinct in: Coffee County:
More results trickling in:
UPDATE: 7:23 p.m.
Flashback: Roy Moore won his 2012 Chief Justice race in Alabama only 52 to 48 percent. As for this 2017 race: Jones needs to run up the tally in Birmingham to win, according to CNN. Madison County is another county to watch. Hillary Clinton won Jefferson County, but not by enough, CNN reports. Jones needs to outperform 52-53 percent in that county to carry the state. However, turnout is crucial (such as if rural Republicans don’t come out to vote at all.)
UPDATE, 7:22 p.m.
Results are already trickling in: Jones 157, Moore 53. Those results are, of course, so small as to be completely meaningless at this point. With a few more results in, the results showed 60 percent Jones and 39 percent Moore, but they were almost all absentee ballots, according to CNN. Some of the margins are softer for Moore than Moore needs to win, CNN reported, but there are too few votes in for it to really matter. It’s just something the campaigns are watching nervously.
UPDATE, 7 p.m.
The polls in Alabama are now closed. It’s been 25 years since a Democrat won a statewide race in Alabama. The last Democrat to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate was Howard Heflin, who served from 1979 until 1997.
There are racial disparities in the Alabama electorate:
Political analyst Dave Wasserman has created a spreadsheet model that details the percentages both Moore and Jones need in each county to win:
UPDATE, 5:59 p.m.
The Roy Moore campaign has banned the Washington Post from its election night party, according to AL.com. The Post broke the first sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, including from a woman who alleges that Moore had sexual contact with her when he was a prosecutor in his 30s, and she was 14. Moore denies the allegations.
UPDATE, 5:48 p.m.
Mother Jones reports that there are claims of voter suppression in Alabama. “Some of these voters are told that they cannot vote,” Coty Montag, director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, wrote, according to the news site. “Others are being given provisional ballots. The correct [procedure] is that voters who appear on the inactive list must be allowed an opportunity to re-identify and vote a regular ballot.”
UPDATE, 5:36 p.m.
Celebrities turned up in Alabama to drive voters to the polls.
Alabama native Channing Tatum also weighed in for Jones.
Meanwhile, Moore touted an endorsement from President Donald Trump several hours before the polls closed.
UPDATE, 5:29 p.m.
Senate Republicans planned to meet on the morning of December 13 to decide what to do if Roy Moore wins, according to CNN.
UPDATE, 5:25 p.m.
CNN’s Jake Tapper interviewed Ted Crockett, Roy Moore’s spokesman. Among other things, Crockett admitted that Moore “probably” still thinks homosexual conduct should be illega and also tried offering a justification for Moore’s previous statements that Muslims should not be allowed a serve in Congress (a justification based on a bad misunderstanding of United States law, which Tapper quickly rectified). You can read more about that controversy here. Watch:
UPDATE, 5:22 p.m.
Moore rode to the polls on his horse, Sassy. Moore also rode the horse to the polls during the primary. Here’s a photo from December 12:
UPDATE, 5:18 p.m.
The first exit polls in the race are in. Of course, exit polls should be taken with a grain of salt (Remember President Al Gore?) However, they do provide a glimpse into some voters’ minds. According to CBS News, exit polls showed that just under half of voters queried think the sexual misconduct accusations against Moore are true. There was a huge partisan divide on that question, with 86 percent of Moore voters disbelieving the accusations, but 89 percent of Jones voters believing them.
Exit polls also measured approval of Trump:
However, Jones’ voters in the exit polls indicated they were more strongly behind their candidate than Moore’s voters were, according to CBS. According to CNN, exit polls said slightly more than half of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Moore, and 49 percent had an unfavorable opinion of Jones. However, voters were pretty evenly split on whether both Moore and Jones shared their values. Fox News found in exit polls that slightly more people believe the accusations than disbelieve them.
Experts had said the race was incredibly difficult to predict. Moore, the Republican, has led in almost all recent polls (he was up an average 2.2 percentage points by election day), but one did show a tie and another showed Democrat Doug Jones up by 10. The volatility in polling was attributed by some experts to the fact that Moore was polling better with online and automated pollsters, whereas Jones performed better when live pollsters were asking the question. Before sexual misconduct accusations broke against Moore, Alabama was considered a reliably Republican state that had not elected a Democrat to the Senate for 20 years. According to CBS News, “Alabama is a solidly Republican state, and the last time a Democrat won a Senate seat, it was 1992, and Richard Shelby, then a Democrat, later became a Republican.”
According to the New York Times, “Strong support for Roy S. Moore, the Republican, is expected in rural, mostly white parts of the state and in its northern half. The Democrat, Doug Jones, aims to create a lead in the urban counties that include Birmingham and Montgomery, and across a band of largely black counties.” The Times added: “One critical battleground is a trio of smaller, whiter cities: Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. Mr. Moore won a hard race in 2012 by keeping things close there. Mr. Jones hopes to win the cities by a convincing margin.”
That Jones made the race competitive contributed to the drama. It was deemed possible that some voters simply didn’t want to tell pollsters they are voting for the controversial Moore. However, turnout was considered the wildcard in the race, including of African-American voters expected to vote heavily for Jones. According to CBS News, “Jones is best known for successfully prosecuting two KKK members for a 1962 church bombing in Birmingham, and for sending Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph to jail. But he’s also a pro-abortion liberal Democrat in a state that tends to abhor abortion, liberals, and Democrats.”
“The race is so peculiar and has so many variables that some pollsters are reluctant to say” who will win, reported Politico before the election. FiveThirtyEight also stressed caution when trying to predict the race. “There’s a massive spread in results from poll to poll — with surveys on Monday morning showing everything from a 9-point lead for Moore to a 10-point advantage for Democrat Doug Jones,” the site reported, also chalking it up in part to the different polling formats and how each candidate performs with them.