Alabama Senate race gives GOP voters an uncomfortable choice
With two weeks to go until the Alabama election for U.S. Senate, Kathie Luckie of Hoover said she is "teetering" with her choice.
A Republican, she usually supports the GOP candidate. But she said Roy Moore has always been "a little radical" for her taste, even before he was hit with recent allegations of sexual misconduct.
"It's a struggle. I'm just kind of bouncing around with my decisions. Right now, I'm caught between don't vote or vote Republican," said Luckie, a retired UPS supervisor from Hoover. Even though she's not a Moore fan, she said, "I do believe it's important for a Republican to get into the office."
Voters like Luckie — reliable Republicans in the middle — will determine whether Moore or Democrat Doug Jones wins on Dec. 12. While Moore needs evangelicals to show up at the polls and Jones will rely heavily on black Democrats, a large swath of Alabama Republicans — typically Christian and conservative — holds the key to victory for both.
Moore is counting on them to send another Republican to Washington while Democrats hope Jones peels off some Republicans and others, turned off by Moore, stay home.
Doug Jones signs are a common sight in Homewood, a leafy suburb near downtown Birmingham where incumbent Republican Sen. Luther Strange lives.
Harold Cook, 67, typically votes Republican but said he might vote for a write-in this time.
"I'm not sure we need to go back to people who defy the law. The state has been through this before with the governor in the 1960s," Cook said. "I'm tired of seeing Roy Moore on the news."
Moore was a polarizing figure in Alabama — winning his last statewide election with 51 percent — before the allegations of sexual misconduct. He was removed as state chief justice in 2003 when he disobeyed a court order to move a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument out of the state Supreme Court building. After winning election to the post again, he was permanently suspended last year for urging state probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples, in defiance of the federal courts.
Two women have accused Moore of sexually assaulting or molesting them decades ago, when he was a deputy district attorney in his 30s and they were teenagers. At least five others have said he pursued romantic relationships when they were between ages 16 and 18. Moore has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct and said he never dated "underage" women, although he has not defined what he meant by "underage."
It's been a quarter of a century since a Democrat was elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama, where many white voters almost reflexively vote for the Republican in statewide races.
Zac McCrary, an Alabama-based Democratic pollster, said Jones must focus on issues that cross party lines and will "never have good math" if he presents it as a "D'' versus "R'' battle.
"He's fighting real muscle memory among much of the white electorate," McCrary said.
Jones has launched an advertisement with Republicans explaining their decision to support him. His wife, Louise, has been doing coffee talks with suburban women. In speeches, Jones hammers on "kitchen table issues" and breaking away from divisive politics.
"Alabama has an opportunity to either go backwards with a divisive figure, the kind of figure that I think Alabamians are tired of. Or they can send someone who has reached across the aisle, who's worked with both sides, who is trying to be someone who will find common ground with people," Jones said Sunday at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Support for Moore is stronger in rural areas. Crossing an intersection down the street from a Sav-A-Life anti-abortion center in Troy, 77-year-old Bert Fridlin said he never votes Democrat. He won't this time either, he said, citing Jones' support of abortion rights.
President Donald Trump on Sunday tried to frame it as a partisan battle. Disregarding concerns from Senate Republican leaders who have disavowed Moore, Trump tweeted out criticisms of Jones and said it would be a "disaster" for a Democrat to win the Alabama race.
David Mowery, an Alabama-based political consultant, said Trump's words might sway Republicans who were considering sitting out the race.
"But now they've got the president saying, 'Hey, I need Roy Moore to help us on things like tax reform.' I think it does affect certain voters," Mowery said.