Alabama Senatorial Election upset spells bad news for the Republican Party

Adam Jackman, Staff Writer

On Dec. 12, the Alabama Special Senatorial Election took place, and the results shocked the nation.  This election is special for so many reasons—a Democrat, Doug Jones, will now serve as senator in Alabama for the first time since 1994, and a man convicted of sexual assault and accused of abusing a minor lost in a surprising upset.  But why is this election so important?

This mosh pit of an election all started when then President-elect Trump nominated Jeff Sessions, then Senator from Alabama, to the position of Attorney General.  After Sessions officially vacated the seat, Luther Strange was appointed to fill it temporarily on Feb. 9 of this year by then Alabama governor Robert Bentley.  Initially, Bentley decided to align the elections with the 2018 general midterm elections, but he resigned on Apr. 10 to leave current governor Kay Ivey up to the task.  Ivey, then decided to move the election up to Dec. 12 and the primary date to Sep. 26, because the timetable set forth by Bentley violated state law by delaying the election to 2018.

Once the official date was set for the primary and general elections, the Republicans began to scramble for a candidate.  Luther Strange, the former Attorney General of Alabama for six years was the clear front runner for the nomination from the start.  As the incumbent he already had support and likability within the state and had made powerful connections within the state and federal government during his time as a public servant.  It was almost a given that he was going to win, as Jeff Sessions had his job before 2011 and was now going to pass off his old job once again.

However, the alt-right Republicans in Alabama had another candidate in mind: former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Alabama, Roy Moore.  Moore previously had been suspended from the position twice: once in 2003, after illegally keeping up a statue of the ten commandments at the Alabama State Courthouse after a federal order was issued to tear it down, and once in 2013 after still enforcing Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage even after it was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.  Despite these instances, Moore won the initial Republican primary on Aug. 15 by six percent over Luther Strange.  This news came just a week after President Trump gave Strange his full endorsement in a tweet on Aug. 8 stating, “Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!” Doug Jones, the former District Attorney of Northern Alabama, won the Democratic primary on the same date and secured the nomination.

However, no candidate hit fifty percent of the vote in August, so they moved to a runoff election on Sep. 26, with the Moore Republicans continuing their support.  Many efforts by GOP party members including the President and Vice President tried to keep the hope for Luther Strange alive.  In a set of tweets by the President on Sep. 20 he again vouched for “Big” Luther to protect gun owners and veterans in Alabama as Senator.  He pushed the NRA endorsement Strange had gotten as leverage over Moore.  In the first of those tweets he mentioned the visit he would take to Alabama to endorse Strange in person, “Looking forward to Friday night in the Great State of Alabama. I am supporting ‘Big’ Luther Strange because he was so loyal and helpful to me!”

On that Friday night in Huntsville, Strange stood united with the President wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap.  However, the endorsement from the President does not match that of former Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon in Alabama.  The red wall of counties who voted for Trump in the Presidential election did so in his unity with Bannon and the alt-right during the campaign.  Bannon stuck with Moore and so did the voters, by a whopping ten percent margin.  Bannon’s “season of war” against the Republican establishment had begun in full force in Alabama, and he had no intention of stopping for any reason.

The alt-right establishment seemed to be cruising toward victory in Alabama, with Roy Moore leading by eight points on Oct. 3.  However, the race would soon be flipped upside down.  On Nov. 9, the Washington Post published a story of a sexual assault that Roy Moore had allegedly committed against a 14-year- old girl in 1979.  Over the past three weeks, four more accusers have come forward including accusations of sexual assault against two 16-year-olds, one 17-year-old and one 18-year-old. In all cases, Moore was over 15 years older than his accusers.

This has created turmoil in Moore’s platform and further division within the Republican Party.  Though President Trump expressed his doubt of all accusations against Moore, his daughter, Ivanka Trump, has said, “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”

Republicans within the Senate even considered suspending Moore immediately if he managed to find a way to win the election.  This division within the Republican Party is what allowed Doug Jones to take the lead in polling and eventually pull out a very narrow victory on the 12.  The red wall in Southern Alabama had been pierced by the sexual assault accusations against Moore and left the possibility for the urban counties like Montgomery and Mobile to swing the results to Jones on Dec. 12.

At the last moment with just a few days before the election, President Donald Trump announced a full endorsement of Roy Moore and tweeted, “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama.”  The same day the Republican National Committee announced that they would resume funding Moore’s campaign.

Nevertheless, none of this was enough and the die had been cast; record turnout among black voters and Democrats in Alabama saw the nation shocked as Jones won by a solid 1.5 point margin over Moore.  Being a fairly moderate Democrat, Jones believes in the right to healthcare, raising the minimum wage, combating climate change,  and reforming the prison system which has especially poor conditions in Alabama.  One especially divisive policy is his support of Planned Parenthood and being pro-choice in the deeply Christian and Conservative Alabama.  He aims to show a face of dignity when representing Alabama and to prove that their politicians can adhere to ethics and integrity.

The implications of this election are many as it saw a state considered among the most Republican in America reject an alt-right candidate and perform the unthinkable.  With midterm elections next year and many establishment Republicans such as Tennessee’s Bob Corker announcing that they will not be seeking re-election, it will have to be seen whether more states will go down the path of Alabama with the GOP putting forward an extreme and divisive figure as their candidate.  How will the alt-right fare in the future?  There is no way to tell, but just maybe this election can be taken as a hint.