Monday, December 11, 2017

Alabama U.S. Senate Special Election

Status: Republican Open
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Tossup (R)

There is quite a tawdry political soap opera playing down in Dixie. Those who follow politics and current events anywhere else in the U.S. or throughout the world for that matter have not been immune to this story. Tomorrow, the voters will have their say on a race that has tremendous amounts of background information from several facets, but that may not be the end of the story.

To me, discussion of this race, has to begin over 25 years ago. That year, when current GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore was leaving his ancestral party of the Democrats to become a Republican, Bill Clinton, a Southern Democrat in his own right was elected President, despite numerous questions about his honesty and character, especially as they related to his relationships with women other than his wife. As a young teenage Republican, I was backing the incumbent President and the theme of the party that "character matters." However, in times of economic uncertainty, enough voters decided that a politician's private life or past life was largely irrelevant as long as they liked where he stood on the issue. Alas, Clinton was elected, and for most of the eight years of his Presidency, the economy seemed to be improving, and thus his defenders stood by him, even as even more serious allegations involving rape and sexual assault emerged. It was easy for Clinton fans to dismiss the women as opportunistic liars who had no right to get in the way of a politician who was just doing his job. Clinton settled a sexual harassment lawsuit but only after his testimony in that matter brought about an impeachment from Congress related to a consensual Oval Office affair he had with a very young White House intern. Sure, Clinton was the subject of numerous jokes but was looked upon by many as a harmless charmer with a libido problem. His character was secondary to how the economy performed as he was President, while people like me shook their heads and wondered how he could get away with it.

Last year, the tables turned, as Bill Clinton's wife, who was perceived as being involved as his chief enabler in the "bimbo eruption" matters was narrowly defeated in her bid for the Presidency by Donald Trump, a man (formerly friends with the Clintons) with his very own checkered past, including allegations made against him by women of sexual assault. Towards the latter part of the campaign, the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced, and many thought that was the end of Trump. However, he managed to dismiss it as "locker room talk" with a rare semi-apology and pivoted to the matter of Bill Clinton, by bringing the former President's most serious accusers to be his guests at the debate. For decades, Clinton supporters and media figures, who discounted or dismissed the allegations of Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick, suddenly found themselves in an awkward position. One also has to wonder why those women, assuming they had really been through what they claimed, would be willing to be used politically by a person like Trump, who incidentally had been among the voices attacking them as acccusers during the Clinton years.

Alas, Trump won the Presidency as enough voters in conservative leaning areas looked at matters of economic anxiety and others issues and decided that the policies of "Make America Great Again" that his campaign was pushing mattered more than questions about his past or about what kind of person many of them realized he continued to be. Once again, character did not matter, and as an older, now disillusioned Republican, I was once again shaking my head.

Quickly, Trump named his first Senate endorser, the very conservative Jeff Sessions of Alabama, to be U.S. Attorney General, necessitating a need for a special election, that was likely to occur during the 2018 midterms. Sessions has certainly had his own issues with Trump since becoming Attorney General related to his appropriate self-recusal in the Russian investigation. At times, it looked like Trump was prepared to fire Sessions, but the AG has stuck around, although he might at times wished he never left the Senate seat he was first elected to in 1996.

Numerous ambitious Republicans were considered to fill the temporary Senate vacancy, and the decision was left to GOP Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama. A once popular figure, (who happened to refuse to support Donald Trump in 2016, in spite of the Republican nominee solidly winning the state) Bentley was engaged in his own extra-marital scandal and subsequent abuse of office allegations that would eventually have him pleading guilty in a criminal proceeding and resigning office in front of an inevitable Republican led impeachment in Montgomery.

Before leaving office though, Bentley selected Attorney General Luther Strange as Alabama's next Senator. Strange, who was considered a top contender for the Governorship in 2018, just so happened to be the person who had recommended the Republican legislature slow-walking impeachment proceedings against Bentley. Many denounced this appointment as a quid pro quo, but Strange was off to Washington, where he would be the tallest ever U.S. Senator.

Once Bentley resigned the Governorship though, the office fell to Republican Kay Ivey, a somewhat grandmotherly like figure in the Republican Party (though she never married or had children). She then moved up the date of the special election to 2017, perhaps wanting the voters to not feel like they had no voice in the controversial decision made by Bentley in appointing Strange and perhaps because of pressure exerted by her own backers or by various other Republican politicians regarding the desire to separate that Republican primary process from that of the Gubernatorial cycle in 2018. Whatever the reason was, Republicans in Alabama and elsewhere would regret this decision and sure wish that the Senate matter was next year. There were calls made recently to Ivey and election officials in this GOP dominated state to cancel or postpone the special election to next year, and while they might have been able to get away with it, it would have been seen as very dirty politics.

With Strange running as the incumbent now for the 2017 nomination, his chief Republican opponent was expected to be Tea Party aligned Congressman Mo Brooks. However, the race was shaken up by the surprise entrance of Roy Moore, a longtime controversial figure in the state and party. Moore had twice been removed as Alabama's statewide elected Supreme Court Chief Justice after disobeying court orders related to a very large Ten Commandments monument he had in his courtroom. That made him a hero of many social conservatives and Moore certainly took some steps to run for President in the past as both a Republican and and as a conservative Independent.  He had significantly under performed GOP strength though against a no-name Democrat in his last statewide race and many Republicans wondered if he was the only potential person in the party who might actually put the Senate seat at risk, especially with some of his very right-wing pronouncements on gays and lesbians, Sharia law, and weird positions that seemed to be not exactly be consistent with the U.S. constitution.

As things developed, Strange found himself under fire from all angles, and the distaste over his appointment by Bentley did not die down. This was in spite of the fact that the Republican establishment was completely behind Strange and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spent a lot of money running ads trying to discredit Mo Brooks. President Trump himself weighed in with an endorsement of Strange, that divided many of his staunchest supporters, with the thought that he did not really mean it and that McConnell conned him into doing so. Polls showed that Strange was in real danger of not even making the run-off there, but that even if he did, would have a tough time against Moore, who was showing surprising strength.

The support of Trump and fear of Moore winning did help Strange a bit and certainly hurt Brooks the a crowded field with various other candidates also running. Brooks was attacked by establishment Republican types as having been opposed to Trump during the primaries, when he had backed Ted Cruz for the nomination. Brooks tried to play up his pro-Trump bona fides and Strange went even further in professing his love for the President. It was at this point, where I, although I am certainly not an Alabama voter, decided that I could not bring myself to root for any of the three main contenders there on the Republican side.

The August primary results did produce, as expected, a first place finish for Moore, but the incumbent Strange easily managed to take the second spot and advance into a runoff. One would think though that the Brooks vote was still angry at Strange and the Congressman refused to endorse either opponent who had defeated him but saved his harshest words for Strange. Despite the continued Trump endorsement, Moore won the September runoff by nearly 10 points. Trump took to Twitter to throw Strange under the bus and say the race would not have been as close if not for him. He offered a virtual endorsement of Moore at that time.  Republicans across the country felt some tinges of panic but ultimately concluded that Alabama was such a Republican state that even Moore was likely to win. What he would do in the Senate to embarrass the party was another matter though. I still think that in despite of Moore's solid right-wing base, the questions about Bentley's appointment of Strange were enough to cost him the nomination for a full-term.

As for the Democrats, a party that had been rendered to the back-benches in Alabama politics, they nominated Doug Jones, a former U.S. Attorney who had received great plaudits for having prosecuted (decades later) the Klansmen who took part in the horrific 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black little girls and injured many others.While Jones would easily win the primary, there was some concern in the party that lack of interest in the race and his under the radar campaign could produce a victory for an even more invisible candidate, an African-American who happened to have the name of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

With the Jones vs. Moore matchup set, I decided, as someone who has never voted for a Democrat in a partisan race in my life (but did refuse to vote for Trump), that if I lived in Alabama I actually would cast a ballot for the Democrat Jones, solely as a protest against Moore (and Trump.) I figured though that even with all of the controversy surrounding Moore, it really would not matter, as he was the solid favorite.

In discussing this race, it is worth nothing that Jones is pretty darn liberal. From issues like abortin down the line, Jones is very much aligned with the national party and that makes it impossible for so many voters to support him. With all that would eventually transpire, I think there is little doubt that Alabama Democrats picked someone who is not their strongest potential candidate and that any sort of vintage Blue Dog, who tried to at least appear to be socially moderate would be a solid favorite right now. Jones, while coming across a a nice guy, is perhaps too nice in this race to deal with someone like Moore, and he seems to be lacking in the charisma department. Could a forceful African-American minister be doing better? Democrats certainly need to gin up as many black votes as possible in this race.

With his status as the favorite, Moore had steadfastly refused to debate Jones or appear before anything other than very friendly crowds. The race took on a major twist last month, (right after the Democrats' big win in the Virginia Governor race) when the Washington Post reported that four women were accusing Moore of sexual misconduct against them, decades ago, when he was an unmarried assistant district attorney in his thirties and they were teenagers.

The allegations were horrific, as the youngest accuser was but 14 at the time, although many Moore supporters were quick to dismiss them as "lies from the liberal media." Moore denied any misconduct but seemed to struggle in putting the story away in regards to whether he had ever dated teenage girls at that time. Many believed the allegations were credible and that Moore's denials were not. Apparently, this sort of behavior from Moore's past had been whispered in Alabama circles for many years and there were stories of him having been banned from the mall at the time for creeping on teenage girls.

One could write an entire book or Dateline NBC special about about all of these allegations and how people tried to defend Moore, but this greatly hurt his campaign, as all sorts of Congressional Republicans called on him to drop out of the race. Talk of write in campaigns intensified (although a formal one by a major name never really got off the ground) as well as various things that could be done to cancel or postpone the special election until 2018. Could Strange resign early causing a new special election? Things of that nature. Moore's supporters in the state seemed to rally around him though and with it clear he would never depart the race, that sort of thing died down. Governor Ivey said that she tended to believe his accusers but that Moore's vote in the Senate in regards to judges and whatnot was too important. Again, the theme of character being secondary to issues is at the forefront. For his part, Alabama's senior Senator Richard Shelby is being very vocal in saying that Moore is unfit for the Senate and that he wrote in a Republican candidate.

Truth be told, while write-in efforts, including those on behalf of retired military officer Lee Busby may hurt Moore and help Jones in effect, the most logical thing for Alabamians to do is to hold their nose and vote for Jones because Moore is so horrible. That is what I hope happens. However, my sense is that many Democrats want Moore to win, just because they want to hang him as an albatross around the necks of Republicans around the country. Let there be no doubt though that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and many of his fellow Republicans do want the Democrat to win and beat Moore, even as it may affect the balance of power race in 2018. They feel this Alabama seat can be won back easily in 2020 by someone else.

While the NRSC pulled out of a deal to support Moore, the actions of Trump and the RNC he controls have been different. After first looking like he wanted Moore out, Trump has now gone all in on supporting Moore and the RNC has rejoined the field battle in Alabama. Of course, this has caused all sorts of controversy as well with some Republicans completely dismayed by this action. Trump of course has his own accusers of sexual misconduct.

For a while, it looked like this story could cost Moore the election as polls showed a sharp shift to Jones. Perhaps though, the story came out too early as most polls show a shift back to Moore as Republican voters are saying they tend to not believe the charges or are willing to discount them because they are from decades ago, or just because nothing is worth the cost of putting a liberal Democrat in office. A side note is that in this season of the "Me Too" movement, Democrats lost a lot of credibility by refusing to quickly call for the resignation of Senator Al Franken in Minnesota or Congressman John Conyers in Michigan after they faced credible accusers. Due to backlash, Democrats eventually turned on both politicians. Conyers has resigned and Franken last week, to great fanfare, said he would resign in the "coming weeks" while making note of the allegations against Moore and Trump in his Senate floor announcement, where he basically said his female accusers were liars. Fair politics or not, Democrats missed a golden opportunity on all this as it relates to Alabama, as their tribalism has only emboldened the apologists for Moore and Trump.

With the election tomorrow, polls show anything from a nine point Moore lead to a 10 point Jones lead. Partisans on both sides say that polls could be fake and be used simply to try to hurt the other candidates chances. I believe that a development last Friday might really hurt the Democrats as one of the accusers, who said that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16, and who was aligned with liberal celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, admitting that she added some writing to the yearbook she said Moore signed thirty years ago. This makes it that much easier for his defenders to say that it was all a forgery and a smear campaign against him for political purposes.

Turnout in special elections is always hard to gauge and will of course play a big part in the result tomorrow. Three weeks ago, I would have predicted a Jones win, and then momentum shifted back towards Moore's defenders finding a way to excuse voting for him to keep the seat Republican. Earlier today, I was prepared to say that the race was "Leans Republican" but the Fox News poll showing a 10 point Jones lead will lead me to say it is a Tossup.

My hunch is that Moore wins tomorrow, and could perhaps even win solidly. That will make me sad, as someone who has ever actually wanted a Democrat to win an election before. I very much hope Doug Jones wins, just because Roy Moore is so bad, even if none of the claims of him being a pedophile or child predator were accurate or had been made. The Republican Party I was once proud of and wish I could be proud of again should have no place for Moore, especially since so many believed he probably did abuse those young girls. I find all that horrible, but I was unable to abide a candidate who said that he does not have to follow the Constitution or that refusal to stand for the National Anthem (which I find very distasteful) is somehow illegal. I consider myself a staunch conservative, but believe that all of my fellow Americans are entitled to the same Constitutional rights I am, including gays, lesbians, and Muslims. Roy Moore does not share those views, and perhaps worst of all, has said that the U.S. deserved the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01.

So, when I watch the results come in tomorrow, I will hope the Democrat wins, and that Republicans are saved from themselves, as should have happened by rejecting Trump. My sense though is that Moore will win and his supporters will be gleeful and partisan Democrat hacks will not exactly be upset either. The tribal game of politics rolls on.

What will happen then? Most agree that Moore will have to get sworn in but Republicans for weeks have said that he should immediately be referred to the Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations of sexual abuse against underage girls and that he might become the first Senator to be expelled from the body since the Civil War. Democrats tend to say they doubt Republicans will follow up with that, but I think it is very much a possibility and I hope they do the right thing. (in spite of the wishes of the voters in an election that should not have even taken place until next year) for the Senate, the Republican Party, and most importantly for the country.

Moving forward, may both parties, and those who cannot identify with either party, understand that issues and positions are important things to consider when voting, but that character  and what kind of person a candidate is should always matter above all else.

Never Moore.


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