Alabama polls open in closely watched senate race

Donald Trump endorses Republican Roy Moore who is accused of sexual misconduct

 Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the US Senate from Alabama, departs on horseback after casting his ballot at a polling location in Gallant, Alabama. Photograph: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the US Senate from Alabama, departs on horseback after casting his ballot at a polling location in Gallant, Alabama. Photograph: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

 

Voters in Alabama headed to the polls on Tuesday in a hard-fought US Senate race in which president Donald Trump has endorsed controversial fellow Republican Roy Moore.

Mr Moore (70) is a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice whose campaign has been clouded by allegations of sexual misconduct toward teenagers.

He is up against Democrat Doug Jones (63) a former US attorney who is hoping to pull off an upset victory in the deeply conservative Southern state.

Polls opened at 7am (1pm Irish time) in the Alabama special election for the seat vacated by Republican Jeff Sessions, who became US attorney general in the Trump administration.

Mr Moore, who often wears Western-style clothing, showed up to vote at the Gallant Fire Department in northern Alabama on horseback and wearing a cowboy hat.

Divided

The Alabama contest has divided the Republican Party on whether it is better to support Mr Moore in order to maintain their slim majority in the US Senate or shun him because of the sexual allegations. Mr Trump has strongly backed Mr Moore but several other Republicans, including senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, have distanced themselves from the candidate.

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“Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!” Mr Trump said in a Twitter post in which he criticised Mr Jones as a potential “puppet” of the Democratic congressional leadership. Mr Moore has been accused by multiple women of pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, including one woman who said he tried to initiate sexual contact with her when she was 14. Mr Moore has denied any misconduct. Reuters has not independently verified any of the accusations.

On the eve of Tuesday’s election, Mr Moore was joined on the campaign trail by Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s former chief strategist and an executive at the right-wing Breitbart News site. Mr Bannon framed the Alabama election as a showdown between establishment elites and populist power and excoriated Republicans who declined to support Mr Moore. “There’s a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better,” he said.

Mr Moore, who was twice removed from the state supreme court for refusing to abide by federal law, has made conservative Christian beliefs a centrepiece of his campaign and sought to energize evangelicals in Alabama.

He has said homosexual activity should be illegal and has argued against removing segregationist language from the state constitution. Mr Moore told the rally on Monday: “I want to make America great again with president Trump. I want America great, but I want America good, and she can’t be good until we go back to God.”

Without mentioning Mr Moore by name, Republican former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who grew up in the state, issued a statement on Monday calling the special election “one of the most significant in Alabama’s history.” She urged Alabama voters to “reject bigotry, sexism, and intolerance”.

Democratic senatorial candidate Doug Jones speaks to reporters after voting at Brookwood Baptist Church in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Democratic senatorial candidate Doug Jones speaks to reporters after voting at Brookwood Baptist Church in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A Fox News poll conducted on Thursday and released on Monday put Mr Jones ahead of Mr Moore, with Mr Jones potentially taking 50 per cent of the vote and Mr Moore 40 per cent.

No Democrat has held a US Senate seat from Alabama in more than 20 years. In 2016, Mr Trump won the state by 28 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Mr Jones has touted a record that includes prosecuting former Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, in which four girls were killed. He spent the past week rallying African-Americans, the most reliably Democratic voters in the state, and hammering Mr Moore in television ads. He has told supporters that his campaign is a chance to be on the “right side of history for the state of Alabama”.

“Judge Moore has been consistently wrong about the Constitution,” Mr Jones said to reporters after casting his ballot on Tuesday at a Baptist church in Birmingham. “I don’t think Roy Moore is going to win this election.”

If Mr Jones wins on Tuesday, Republicans would control the senate by a slim 51-49 margin, giving Democrats momentum ahead of the November 2018 congressional elections, when control of both chambers of congress will be at stake. Mr Moore’s campaign has cast Mr Jones as a liberal out of step with Alabama voters, seizing on the Democrat’s support of abortion rights. Mr Moore may find a chilly reception in Washington if he wins. Republican leaders have said Mr Moore could face an ethics investigation if he enters the senate. – Reuters