Alabama Senate readers’ guide: What to watch for and when
The high-stakes Senate special election between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones ends when Alabama voters go to the polls Tuesday.
The overarching question is whether allegations that the 70-year-old Moore pursued sexual relationships with teenage girls — one of whom was 14 at the time — while in his 30s will be enough for Alabama to elect a Democratic senator for the first time in 25 years.
Moore, who is also known for being ousted twice as state Supreme Court chief justice, says his accusers are lying. Jones has contrasted the allegations facing Moore with his own history prosecuting two Ku Klux Klan members in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four African-American girls.
Polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 7 p.m. Alabama is on Central time, so results will start coming in after 8 p.m. ET.
Here are five key questions that will decide Tuesday’s election:
1. Will Republican voters show up?
In any ordinary election, Alabama is so reliably red that even a weak turnout by Republican voters could carry a GOP candidate to victory. But this is no ordinary election, and Moore is no ordinary candidate.
Special elections tend to be low-turnout affairs, and the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office has already downgraded its turnout forecast from 25% to 20%, citing exhaustion with the race. Many Republicans could opt to just stay home.
2. Will African-American voters turn out for Jones?
Several influential African-Americans are blanketing Alabama for Jones in the final weekend of campaigning.
Organized by Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama, those in the state include Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond, a representative from Louisiana.
African Americans are a reliably Democratic voting bloc and make up about 27% of Alabama’s electorate. If they make up 27 to 28% of the voters who turn out Tuesday, Jones could be in a strong position.
3. How will the Mobile area vote?
This is perhaps the most important region in the election due to its concentration of affluent, more moderate, business-type Republicans.
Will they stay home? Vote for Jones? Or stick with Moore?
To understand the area’s importance, consider that Moore held his biggest pre-election event — a rally with Steve Bannon a week from Election Day — in Fairhope, in the Mobile media market. And that Trump did his Friday night event in Pensacola, Florida — just across the Alabama state line and also in the Mobile market.
4. Will a write-in candidate change the outcome?
GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama said he had written in a “distinguished” Republican when he voted early. But who? He never said.
Lee Busby, a retired Marine colonel from Tuscaloosa, is running as a write-in candidate — but his candidacy hasn’t picked up much attention and is unlikely to sway the race. Those who vote for Busby were unlikely to cast ballots for Moore or Jones anyway.
Libertarian Ron Bishop is also running as a write-in candidate. And, although not in the race, Alabama football coaches tend to get some write-in votes. Still, don’t expect to see Sen. Nick Saban
5. Who will be the Republican loser in Washington?
There are really just two options here: Trump or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Trump’s late endorsement of Moore led the Republican National Committee to get back into the race. McConnell kept his apparatus — the Senate Republican campaign arm and its super PAC — out of the race.
Moore is part of a Steve Bannon-led effort to make McConnell toxic with Republican primary voters. Tuesday will be a major gauge of whether it worked.