On Dec. 12, Alabama voters will elect either Democrat Doug Jones or Republican Roy Moore to the US Senate. Complicating this race is a report from The Washington Post that Roy Moore, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, engaged in sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old girl, followed by a string of additional accusations from women about Moore’s misconduct. According to the latest polls, the race is neck and neck, which has left voters outside the South wondering what Alabamians could possibly be thinking. So I asked them.
In some ways, this race started as a microcosm of the 2016 presidential election, pitting a Democrat without much of an inspired base against a Republican who, even before the charges were made, was seen as a bizarre man. And as in the national election, some mainstream Republicans have abandoned their candidate. Even before these allegations came out, President Trump had originally supported Moore’s primary opponent, Luther Strange. Now Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell admits he believes the women accusers, Republican Senator Jeff Flake is supporting the Democrat, and even Ivanka Trump is going against her father’s wishes and condemning the judge. There are lots of controversial issues in our country, but when you come right down to it, it’s easy to say you don’t like pedophiles.
So why are people in Alabama supporting Moore? Based on my conversations with them, Alabama Republicans, just like you and me, would never vote for a pedophile. But they’re not convinced the accusations are true.
Linda voted for Moore in the primary, and intends to vote for him again. “I have read all of the accusations, but there is no smoking gun,” she said. “There is no blue dress, no pictures, no verification of handwriting analysis.” She reminds me that Moore denies the charges, insisting that they are absolute lies. With no evidence other than stories from 40 years ago, Linda is sticking with her candidate. She has considered that the women accusers are telling the truth, but she also wonders whether they are liberal voters with an agenda who will do anything to keep Moore from getting into office. Added Rick, who lives in rural Alabama, “Show me the evidence. I would never vote for a pedophile, and so I am waiting for more information.”
Besides, they ask, what is the alternative? Just as many voters last November cast their ballots against a candidate rather than for one, the same holds in Alabama. In the primary, many voters went with Moore as a vote against Luther Strange, who, as attorney general, refused to investigate a corrupt governor facing both a sexual scandal and accusations about using campaign funds for personal use. They saw Strange as crooked and thus voted for Moore, a judge whose positions, as well as his eccentricities, were familiar. Now the alternative is Doug Jones, a liberal, whom they call “The Hillary Clinton of Alabama.” For antiabortion, pro-Second-Amendment, pro-building-a-wall Republicans, Jones is on the wrong side of the issues they care about. Voters won’t abandon the opportunity for a conservative Republican solely on hearsay.
If more concrete proof emerged against Moore, would they vote for Jones? Never. They told me that if they were convinced of Moore’s guilt, they would just stay home, reducing what is already expected to be very low voter turnout. If Moore is elected and then, subsequently, proof comes out, they fully expect that he will be removed, and that Kay Ivey, the governor of Alabama, will replace him with a better conservative.
If you’ve read the Washington Post article about Moore and teenage girls, you may find this hard to understand. But your idea of the Post’s standards are probably different from those of many Alabama voters, who inherently suspect the media. As Karl said, “This is a newspaper that ridicules us, hates us, demeans us, thinks we are stupid and uneducated and backward, and it adds to my skepticism.”
Charlie, a Moore supporter, suggests that Democrats consider their motives: “Imagine that Al Franken were running against Ted Cruz. Would you vote for Franken and why? Then, if Franken were further accused of misconduct with teenage girls, how would your vote change?”
As the Alabama GOP put it, “There is a sharp policy contrast between Judge Moore, a conservative Republican who supports President Trump, and the liberal Democrat who will fight and thwart the agenda of our president. We trust the Alabama voters in this election to have our beloved state and nation’s best interest at heart. Alabamians will be the ultimate jury in this election — not the media or those from afar.”
Voters in the Heart of Dixie are keenly aware that the spotlight is on them. Unless new information comes out in the next week, Roy Moore will be popping the champagne corks next Tuesday.
Clarification: The voters in this column were given pseudonyms to protect their identity.Diane Hessan is an entrepreneur, author, and chair of C Space. She has been in conversation with 400 voters across the political spectrum weekly since last December. Follow her on Twitter @DianeHessan.