Before Voting Begins, A Look At Alabama's Special Senate Election

Dec 11, 2017
Originally published on December 11, 2017 3:29 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

It's the final day of campaigning before Tuesday's much-watched Senate election in Alabama. Embattled Republican Roy Moore is trying to rebound from allegations that he sexually assaulted teenage girls when he was in his 30s. He says the accusations are false. His opponent, Doug Jones, is trying to become the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama in a quarter of a century.

NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now. And, Debbie, Republicans typically have the advantage in Alabama. With this race up for grabs, what's Roy Moore doing to close it?

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, he's calling in someone who won big in Alabama - Donald Trump. The president recorded these robocall messages that are showing up on people's phones today.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hi. This is President Donald Trump, and I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore.

ELLIOTT: You know, Robert, Trump is still very popular here. He won the state by a whopping 28 percent margin. And now he is hoping - Moore is hoping that the president's support will make a difference for him.

SIEGEL: And what's the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, doing to get out voters?

ELLIOTT: You know, he is also using robocalls to target key parts of the Democratic base, including African-American voters - very important here. President Obama and Vice President Biden have recorded messages of support. Jones is also trying to paint this contest as a crossroads for Alabama, that he would somehow be able to work with both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate while Moore won't work well with anyone and would be bad for the state's interests. Here's what he said campaigning in Birmingham this morning.

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DOUG JONES: It's not the image that we want to project. It's not the image that I think truly reflects the people in this state.

ELLIOTT: Now, he is outspending Moore something like 10 to 1 and is getting a lot of outside help in terms of get-out-the-vote efforts. A super PAC called Highway 31 has been running lots of ads here, some of them very harsh. One warns that Alabama's name would be tarnished if the state elected, quote, "an accused pedophile."

SIEGEL: Republican leaders in Washington have denounced Roy Moore. They say if he's elected, he'd face a Senate ethics investigation. How are voters in Alabama responding to all that?

ELLIOTT: Well, for a sizable chunk of the Republican electorate, it rubs them the wrong way. They don't like being told how to vote. And some share disdain for the Republican establishment. I spoke at a Roy Moore rally with a retired Army Colonel Brock Wells. He lives in Foley, Ala., which is in the southern part of the state. And he says, you know, he is backing Moore because Moore would support Trump's agenda. And he is just very angry with Republican leaders for what he says - you know, they've abandoned Moore. And here's what he had to say about that.

BROCK WELLS: Senator Moore will go up there, and he will not let them forget that. That, to me - his election will drive a saber right through their gut. And that's what I'm after. I'm an old Army guy, and I believe in saying it like it is.

ELLIOTT: You know, Brock said if the allegations prove true, let the Senate ethics committee handle it. Or Alabama voters can handle it by voting Roy Moore out in three years when this seat is up for grabs again.

SIEGEL: NPR's Debbie Elliott in Orange Beach, Ala. Debbie, thanks.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.