For the past few decades the deep South, Congressional seats, particularly in the Senate, have been safely GOP, so it caused nary a ripple when Jeff Sessions quit his Senate seat earlier this year to become the Attorney General of the United States. After all, Donald Trump had carried the state of Alabama by the largest margin of victory since Ronald Reagan in 1972.
But that was November 2016 and, as recent elections have demonstrated, November 2017 is an entirely different world. This is due, in large part, to the declining popularity of Donald Trump, particularly among women. Democrats made impressive gains in the recent November 7th elections, taking over the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey, along with significant gains at the state and local levels.
So what should have been a foregone conclusion in the race to replace Jeff Sessions has turned into a political free-for-all. First, the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate Luther Strange lost to the rouge Alabama Supreme Court Judge, Roy Moore. This was a definite set back for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but Trump took it in stride, readily endorsing Moore – practically before the primary was held. In addition, Trump’s former campaign manager, Steve Bannon, whose “scorched earth-take no prisoners” approach to politics that left many of Trump’s opponents in the dust, also endorsed Moore.
Moore’s election seemed a certainty. Sure, he rode his horse to his polling place, wears a cowboy hat, and flashed a pistol at one of his rallies. But Southerners love a good show when it comes to their politicians and Moore was assuredly giving them one.
And his Democrat opponent Doug Jones could hardly be called flashy. Good, solid, middle-of-the-road, but not showy. Instead, Jones has preferred to campaign on his record, in particular his conviction of two members of the KKK nearly 35 years after the fact for the despicable bombing of a church in Birmingham that killed four young black girls.
But then came the devastating bombshell dropped by The Washington Post last week where four women came forward to accuse Roy Moore of sexually interacting with them when they were teenagers. In particular, the story of one of the women who was only 14-years old when Moore sexually assaulted her was especially damaging. Roy Moore went on the Sean Hannity show but his abysmal attempts to defend himself against these charges convinced no one.
The first to come out against him was Senator Bob Corker, who tweeted out that even before the allegations of child molestation came out, he considered Moore to be a bridge too far for him to support. Then the floodgates began to open. First Senator Mike Lee withdrew his endorsement, followed quickly by Senator Steve Daines. Next former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called Moore “unfit for office” and said he should step aside. The NRSC (Republican National Senate Committee) severed ties with the Moore campaign and withdrew its funding. Now both the Republican leaders of the Senate and the House, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, have said that Moore is not fit to serve. Finally the last two Senators who had previously endorsed Moore, Cruz and Cornyn of Texas, withdrew their endorsements.
This has left Republican leadership in D.C. in something of a quandary. Moore’s name will remain on the ballot whether he withdraws or not and as of today Moore has said he will not step down. Some White House operatives floated the idea of Sessions stepping down as AG to reclaim his former seat, but that was quickly shot down. There has been talk of a write-in campaign, possibly for Luther Strange. Lame-duck Senator Jeff Flake said that if the choice were between Moore and the Democrat, people should vote for the Democrat. Even if a viable write-in candidate could be found, that would only split the Republican party and Democrat Jones would most likely win.
Then came the fifth woman who accused Moore of trying to rape her when she was only 15. Moore denied even knowing the woman, although she produced her high school yearbook with a tender note inscribed by Moore written on one of the pages. In spite of all the evidence, Moore still maintains a base of die-hard supporters, some of whom have publicly said they would prefer to vote for a child molester than a Democrat. But if they are enough of them to give him the election is still not known.
Now, other Senate Republicans are saying that, even if elected, Moore should not be seated. Any way you look at the race, the Republicans are between a rock and a hard place. And at this time, there seems no viable path for them to follow to salvage a Republican Senatorial seat in Alabama.