Democrat Doug Jones has pulled off a stunning upset of notorious homophobe Roy Moore in the race for U.S. senator from Alabama.
Jones was leading Moore, a Republican, by 49.7 percent to 48.7 percent when The New York Times and CNN called the race for him. By the time all precincts were in, Jones's lead had opened up to 50 percent to 48 percent, about 20,000 votes. Jones will serve the remainder of the Senate term of Republican Jeff Sessions, expiring in January 2021. Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general.
Jones will be Alabama's first Democratic U.S. senator since the 1990s. The last Democrat the state elected to that office was Howell Heflin, to whom Jones was once an aide.
Moore, however, was not willing to concede defeat. Speaking to supporters about 11:30 p.m. local time, he said, "When the vote is this close, it is not over." Moore said. He noted that military votes had yet to be counted, and he told supporters that God remains in control. "What we've got to do is wait on God and let this process play out," he said.
But it appears unlikely that military votes will push him over the top, or into the territory where an automatic recount would be triggered -- in Alabama, that's a half-percentage-point difference between the candidates.
Jones celebrated by telling his supporters, "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 in life."
In the end, what derailed Moore was probably not his extreme-right views on LGBT rights, abortion, gun control, and more. During the Senate campaign Moore became the subject of allegations that he sexually abused teenage girls when he was in his early 30s, about 40 years ago. He was accused, among other things, of molesting a 14-year-old and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old. He denied all the allegations, but they likely cost him votes. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, there were about 21,000 write-in votes for other candidates -- more than the difference between the totals for Jones and Moore.
"On this day Alabama stood for victims. It stood for women. It stood for compassion," John Archibald wrote on AL.com, a website for several Alabama newspapers. He noted, "Roy Moore and his supporters called [his accusers] liars and whiners. And some Alabamians joined in the disdain, calling them sluts and worse, insisting that it was once the Alabama way to find mates too young to drive, and that once upon a time, groping was an acceptable act. But Alabama, against the odds and conventional wisdom, stood and rejected that behavior."
Turnout "smashed expectations, roughly doubling what officials had predicted," The Washington Post notes. Early returns, mostly from rural areas, had Moore in the lead, but as the vote from larger cities such as Birmingham and Huntsville came in, Jones surged ahead. The election also stands as a rebuke to Donald Trump, who endorsed Moore after supporting the interim senator, Luther Strange, in the Republican primary, and Steve Bannon, who campaigned hard for Moore.
In its analysis, The New York Times points out, "The abandonment of Mr. Moore by affluent white voters along with strong support from black voters proved decisive, allowing Mr. Jones to transcend Alabama's rigid racial polarization and assemble a winning coalition."
Jones's election means the Republicans now control the Senate by a smaller margin, 51-49. However, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hopes to get a vote on the controversial tax reform bill before Jones is sworn in. He won't be sworn in until the Alabama secretary of state certifies the vote, which likely won't be until the end of the most, the Post reports.
The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore has long been known for his extremely anti-LGBT views, saying marriage equality will destroy the nation, that homosexual "activity" should be illegal, and that transgender people have no rights. He is also an abortion opponent and a gun rights absolutist. He once said that Keith Ellison shouldn't be seated in Congress because he is a Muslim, and suggested that President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States.
He was twice removed from the court -- in 2003 for refusing to take down a Ten Commandments monument at the state courthouse, an unconstitutional establishment of religion, and in 2016 for ethics violations related to his efforts to block marriage equality in the state. (He appealed the latter decision to a special court, and it was upheld in 2017.) After the latest removal, he decided to run for Senate.
Jones, who has taken pro-LGBT stances, is a former U.S. attorney. After finishing law school in the late 1970s, he was staff counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee under Howell Heflin, the last Democrat Alabamians sent to the U.S. Senate.
Later, Jones worked as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. In 1997, President Clinton appointed him U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. In that capacity, he led the prosecution of two of the men who bombed a black church in Birmingham in 1963, killing four young girls and injuring 16 other people. Thomas Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry were both convicted of murder, in 2001 and 2002 respectively. They were two other suspects in the case -- Robert Chambliss, who was convicted of murder in 1977, and Herman Frank Cash, who died in 1994, before he could be tried.