Republicans deal with fallout after dramatic defeat for Roy Moore

Blow to US president Donald Trump, who backed the former judge accused of initiating sexual activity with teenagers by more than a dozen women

Supporters of Doug Jones, who has become the first Democrat to win a senate seat in Alabama in more than a quarter of a century. Photograph: Bob Miller/The New York Times

Supporters of Doug Jones, who has become the first Democrat to win a senate seat in Alabama in more than a quarter of a century. Photograph: Bob Miller/The New York Times

 

The Republican blame game began in Washington on Wednesday after Democratic candidate Doug Jones won a special senate election in Alabama, in a major blow to US president Donald Trump, who backed his rival Roy Moore.

Mr Jones, a 63-year old Alabama lawyer, defied all expectations by winning the seat vacated by attorney general Jeff Sessions – becoming the first Democrat to win a senate seat in Alabama in more than a quarter of a century.

His victory was widely seen as a reflection on the Trump presidency, which backed Mr Moore, a former judge who had been accused of initiating sexual activity with teenagers by more than a dozen women.

While the Republican establishment – including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Alabama’s senior senator Richard Shelby – had urged voters not to vote for Mr Moore, Mr Trump had backed the firebrand candidate in the final stages of the campaign, despite mounting controversy over his alleged sexual activity with underage women when he was in his 30s.

The Democratic victory in the staunchly Republican state has prompted fears about the effect of the Trump presidency among the electorate ahead of next year’s mid-term elections.

A better than expected turnout by African American voters and in urban areas appeared to offset Mr Moore’s support in rural areas of the state, which has a high proportion of evangelical voters.

Final tallies showed that Mr Jones won 49.92 per cent of the vote, with Mr Moore at 48.38 per cent. Addressing supporters, Mr Moore indicated that he was unwilling to concede.

‘God in control’

“I really want to thank you for coming tonight and realise when the vote is this close that it’s not over,” Mr Moore said, adding: “God is always in control. You know . . . part of the problem with this campaign is we’ve been painted in an unfavourable and unfaithful light.”

Under Alabama state law, a recount takes place if the margin is within a half of one percentage point. But Alabama’s secretary of state said it was “highly unlikely” that Mr Jones would not be elected senator.

Mr Jones praised supporters at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Recalling how Alabama had “previously been at a crossroads”, he said that “unfortunately we usually took the wrong fork – tonight, ladies and gentleman, you took the right road.”

The senate campaign had been about “the rule of law . . . about common courtesy and decency,” he told crowds of cheering supporters.

Although Mr Trump congratulated Mr Jones on a “hard fought victory” in a tweet shortly after the result was announced, by Wednesday morning he had adopted a different stance, claiming he had been initially correct in not endorsing Mr Moore in the primary contest in September and instead backing Luther Strange.

“The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the general election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”

Mid-term elections

He later tweeted that the election proved that Republicans needed to “put up GREAT Republican candidates to increase the razor thin margins in both the House and Senate”, a reflection of what is expected to be a deepening conversation within the Republican Party about the kind of candidates it runs in next year’s mid-term elections.

Mr Moore, who was also backed by former White House strategist Steve Bannon, was a highly controversial figure, even before the allegations of sexual misconduct against him emerged. He previously rose to national prominence for his ultra-conservative views and was twice dismissed from his position as chief justice on the Alabama supreme court .

The result also buoyed Democrats. Defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Tonight, Alabama voters elected a senator who’ll make them proud. And if Democrats can win in Alabama, we can – and must – compete everywhere,” she wrote on Twitter.