Politics

The X-Factor in the Alabama Senate Race

Republicans who don’t support Roy Moore could make it a close race

Alabama Democrat Doug Jones, center, accompanied by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Alabama Rep. Terri A. Sewell in Birmingham on Sunday, has tried to appeal to GOP voters in his Senate race against Republican Roy Moore. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

PRATTVILLE, Ala. — For Democrat Doug Jones to win a Senate race in Alabama, he needs some help from voters like 74-year-old Don Jockisch.

“I don’t know,” Jockisch, a Republican, said when asked whom he will support in Tuesday’s election, when Jones faces Republican Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

“Me and the wife are thinking about voting for Moore, but I just don’t like some of the things they’re saying about him,” Jockisch said as he walked into a Walmart here on a chilly Saturday afternoon.

Jockisch was referring to allegations from several women that Moore pursued them — and in two cases assaulted them — when they were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s. Moore has denied any wrongdoing.

Republicans like Jockisch are the X-factor in this race, and explain why a Senate race in the solidly Republican state is suddenly competitive.

“It’s not like this is close because there are enough Democrats to do this,” Jones consultant Joe Trippi said. “No, this is happening because a lot of Republicans are abandoning Roy Moore.”

Democrats and Republicans acknowledge some GOP voters couldn’t stomach voting for Moore even before the allegations. They were turned off by the former judge’s controversial rhetoric and high-profile defiance of federal orders, which twice led to him being removed from the bench.

Republicans say there aren’t enough of these disaffected voters to make a difference Tuesday. And those on the fence will hold their nose and vote for Moore out of party loyalty and because they will not support a Democrat who supports abortion rights.

Some Republicans are still expected to vote for Jones, write in someone else, or stay home.

“The question is just how many,” one Alabama GOP operative said. “That’s what this whole election comes down to.”

Who they are

These Republican voters who might not back Moore are mainly concentrated in suburban and urban areas of the state.

Like Tracy James, 44, of Vestavia Hills, an affluent Birmingham suburb.

“I just think he’s a zealot. He’s way too extreme for me,” James said of Moore.

When Moore won the GOP primary runoff in September, James did some research on Jones and decided to donate to his campaign. Two days later, she received an email from Jones’ spokesman, asking if she’d be willing to make a video about her supporting Jones.

James has been one of the few Republicans publicly backing Doug Jones, and she comes from a political background. She has worked for former GOP Sens. Jeff Sessions and Luther Strange, and former Gov. Haley Barbour when he led the Republican National Committee. Her family is also active in state politics, and her cousin was the GOP governor.

Some Republicans say there are not enough GOP voters like James to sway the race.

“There is a certain factor of Republicans that have never been with Judge Moore,” said Alabama GOP Rep. Robert Aderholt, who voted for Moore. “But I think that’s a minority of Republicans.”

Some Democrats disagree, and point to Moore’s recent statewide races. The last time Moore was on the ballot was in 2012 when he ran for chief justice a second time.

Moore won the race by two points. Bob Vance, the Democratic nominee, garnered nearly 180,000 votes more than President Barack Obama, and won 24 counties compared to Obama’s 15. That suggests a sizable swath GOP voters who supported Romney decided not to vote for Moore, and backed Vance instead.

But more than 70 percent of voters turned out in 2012, and officials expect only 25 percent to head to the polls on Tuesday.

Montgomery-based Democratic pollster Zac McCrary noted turnout is hard to predict. He estimated Jones would need 15 percent of GOP voters, which would amount to roughly 150,000 people, to either vote for Jones or not support Moore.

While that’s a tall order, Democrats see an opening with women and voters under 55.

The Young Republican Federation did withdraw its endorsement of Moore even as the state party stood by him. Two of the county young Republican groups backed Moore as well.

“Our position was this guy doesn’t represent our party. He doesn’t represent the future of the party. He doesn’t represent our state.” said former YRFA chairman Clayton Turner, 35, who is based in Washington, D.C., but is still on the board of directors for the group. He participated in multiple conference calls discussing the group’s decision.

Drew Nelson, 33, chaired the Montgomery Young Republicans as recently as a few weeks ago, before they elected new leadership. He said he likely would have supported Moore, but was going to write in someone else. As an anti-abortion rights Republican, he said he could not vote for a Democrat.

Kim Dowdle, 43 of Hoover, is also a lifelong Republican, and was planning on supporting Moore. But she changed her mind after the allegations surfaced in the Washington Post.

“I’m a survivor of rape,” Dowdle said. “It was a date rape. And the guy was much older than me, as was Roy Moore with the girls. So it kind of hit a little close to home.”

Dowdle is now publicly supporting Jones. She attended Jones’ campaign concert in Birmingham on Saturday, pinning a Doug Jones for Senate button to her brown sweater.

Republican Kim Dowdle is supporting Jones. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Republican Kim Dowdle is supporting Jones. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

She’s knocked on doors in her GOP neighborhood, a Birmingham suburb, carrying “GOP for Jones” signs made by a graphic designer not connected to the campaign.

Dowdle said she usually leads with, “You know, I’m a Republican.”

Organizing?

James and Dowdle are part of a core group of five Republicans in the Birmingham area who are publicly supporting Jones.

Some of them participated in Jones’ television ad featuring GOP voters. They’ve also been active on social media, and some canvassed for Jones.

Steve Crainich, 54, of Alabaster, started a “Republicans for Doug Jones” Facebook page after Moore won the runoff, but didn’t initially say he was behind it.

“I feel like it’s my turn to step up and just be a little brave about it,” Crainich said, explaining his decision to go on the record as the page’s creator.

Crainich and others said they’ve received pushback from other Republicans, and have been called traitors, baby killers, R.I.N.O’s, or Republicans in name only, and the c-word.

They said they wanted to speak up and show other Republicans that GOP voters were backing Jones.

“When it comes to earning the votes of Republican voters, conservative-minded, independent voters, it’s all about giving those voters permission to vote for Doug Jones — to vote for a Democrat, just this one time,” said McCrary.

McCrary said those voters received a strong signal from GOP Sen. Richard C. Shelby, who appeared CNN Sunday morning to reiterate that he did not vote for Moore.

“I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore,” Shelby said. “The state of Alabama deserves better.”

The Jones campaign seized on Shelby’s comments and created two 15-second digital ads that began running Sunday, seemingly targeting those GOP voters who were contemplating not supporting Moore.

Other groups have also zeroed in on these voters. The Democratic super PAC American Bridge launched a five-figure digital ad buy Sunday aimed at Republican women. The 30-second ad begins with a bulletin noise, with the text, “Warning: Community Predator Alert” and an image of Moore.

While Jones and others are targeting Republicans on the airwaves, Dowdle and Crainich said the Jones campaign could have been more engaged on the ground.

“They don’t know what to do with me,” said Dowdle, who said she’s asked to canvass in GOP areas.

“I still don’t feel quite comfortable when I walk in there,” Crainich said of Jones’ campaign office.

“If anyone feels that way then we apologize. We welcome everyone’s support with open arms,” said Jones campaign chairman Giles Perkins. He said the campaign has been reaching out to all voters, including Republicans.

Party Loyalty

Republicans are confident GOP voters will remain loyal to the party. It’s a message President Donald Trump has been pushing, and one that resonates with voters like Robert Thomas, 62, of Prattville.

“I support the Trump agenda so we have to have a Republican in that Senate seat,” said Thomas, who was sporting a red University of Alabama jacket as he walked into Walmart.

Thomas didn’t dismiss the allegations against Moore, he just wasn’t completely sure they were true.

“If due process shows up in six months that he’s absolutely guilty, take him out,” Thomas said.

Watch: In Alabama Race, Jones Has Funding, Moore Has Trump, Bannon Support

James said she’s heard a similar argument from other Republicans — that a likely Senate Ethics Committee investigation could prove the allegations are true and Moore would be removed.

For other Republicans, supporting Moore for Senate means a consistent — and necessary — Republican vote.

“I think Judge Moore would vote in the interest of the people of the state of Alabama,” said Alabama GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne, who voted for Moore.

Byrne noted he personally likes Jones, and has known him since they were a year apart in law school. But he said Jones’ positions on the Affordable Care Act, a tax overhaul, and abortion did not reflect Alabama.

One Alabama GOP operative said the abortion issue was likely putting pressure on some GOP voters who otherwise might have stayed home. Now that the race is competitive, they could be facing more calls to turn out for Moore.

But Turner, of the Alabama Young Republicans, said younger voters were also motivated to turn out to vote against Moore. They’re concerned he could do more damage to the party by becoming a Democratic boogeyman in 2018.

“They’re going to show up because they’re ticked and embarrassed,” Turner said.

But which Republicans will show up and what they will do won’t be known until Election Day. And some, like Jockisch who was heading into Walmart, were still making up their minds.

“It’s hard. I don’t know,” Jockisch said. “I got a few more days to think about it.”

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