Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones has financially overwhelmed his Republican opponent Roy Moore but all his money may not make a difference in the Alabama Senate special election.
Allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore rocked the race, initially boosting Jones’ fundraising and standing in the polls. But polling numbers have tightened in recent days. With the Dec. 12 election roughly a week away, both campaigns are making their final cases to voters for the seat vacated by former Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general.
Even before the allegations surfaced, Democrats believed this special election could be their best shot at flipping a Senate seat in Alabama. The new allegations have increased their optimism, and Jones’ cash advantage can only help. But some Republicans remain confident Moore’s high name recognition, his passionate base of voters and the state’s strong GOP lean will lead him to victory.
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Beginning weeks before the election, Jones and his allies have blanketed the airwaves with positive television and radio ads about the former U.S. attorney, and spots highlighting the allegations about Moore, a two-time chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
The ad domination reflects a broader advantage in resources for Jones, evident in new Federal Election Commission documents. Campaign finance reports made public Friday showed he has raised nearly six times what the Moore campaign managed.
Jones raked in nearly $10.2 million from Oct. 1 through Nov. 22, while Moore raised nearly $1.8 million. One Alabama Democrat said that made Jones the most well-funded statewide candidate in two decades.
Jones also outspent Moore fivefold during the same period. His campaign spent nearly $8.7 million to $1.6 million for Moore. Jones also reported roughly four times as much cash on hand as the former judge as of Nov. 22.
Outside spending has also favored Jones. An analysis of OpenSecrets.org and FEC reports put independent spending for Jones at roughly seven times the amount spent on Moore.
Roughly $1.86 million has been spent on Jones’ behalf compared to nearly $240,000 spent backing Moore. The Moore figure does not include $150,000 on supportive ads from the Great America Alliance, a group aligned with former White House adviser Steve Bannon. Its new ad buy was first reported by CNN and confirmed by two group sources. FEC documents verifying the spending were not available at press time.
The bulk of outside spending for Jones comes from Highway 31, which has spent $1.8 million, mainly on ads. The super PAC’s executive director did not respond to requests for comment.
John Giles heads the Proven Conservatives PAC, which has spent nearly $40,000 on an ad for Moore and has plans for additional spots. He wasn’t thrilled about the financial disparity but found optimism in a biblical reference.
“It’s not usual. It’s also not fun. You’d like to have dollar for dollar competing,” Giles said. “It only took one stone to stop Goliath.”
Past is prologue
But will all that money and advertising for Jones matter in the end?
“I don’t think it will,” said Alabama GOP Rep. Gary Palmer, who has endorsed Moore. “I think a lot of people have pretty well made up their minds.”
“There’s so many more Republicans in Alabama. It’s just not going to make a difference,” said David Ferguson, a GOP strategist in the state.
Moore faced a deluge of spending in the GOP primary and runoff, when allies for appointed Sen. Luther Strange spent millions, overwhelming the former judge on the airwaves. Moore won the runoff by 10 points.
Ferguson attributed that victory to Moore’s passionate base of supporters. But Democratic pollster Zac McCrary countered that the victory was a product of Strange’s vulnerabilities, including his ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley.
Following the runoff, Jones spent several weeks as the only candidate running television ads. Moore has been on the airwaves over the past three weeks, but adviser Brett Doster said the campaign has typically not relied on paid advertising.
“Money always has an effect on things, but it has to be used appropriately. And Roy Moore has always been outgunned,” Doster said. “His strength has always been message, not financial resources.”
Doster said the campaign has been mobilizing its extensive grass-roots network with campaign chairpersons and church contacts in every county in the state.
Ferguson pointed to Moore’s “universal name recognition” in Alabama from five previous statewide runs. Moore is also known for his high-profile showdowns over religious freedom issues. He was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for defying federal orders.
Getting out the vote
Less known than Moore, Jones did have visibility as the prosecutor who convicted Ku Klux Klan members responsible for killing four young girls in the 1963 bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham.
McCrary, the Democratic pollster, said Jones’ resources mean he can tell his own story to voters and run his own voter turnout operation at the same time.
“Often, especially in Democratic campaigns, we are used to being outspent … and you’re forced to make difficult decisions about resource allocations,” McCrary said. “Often, the first thing to get cut is the field program. Here Jones has had the opportunity to not have to make those difficult decisions.”
Voter turnout is critical for both campaigns, and it’s especially difficult to turn them out in a special election in the middle of December.
“I think it may have some effect on turnout,” Alabama GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne said of the spending. “But I got to tell you, turning people out to vote in a special election takes a lot more than television ads. I learned that for sure in my race.”
Byrne, who voted for Moore, was first elected to the House in a special election in December 2013. While there’s more national attention on the Alabama Senate contest than his race, turnout is still expected to be low, he said.
Mobilizing Jones’ base of supporters including African-Americans and young voters will be key, according to McCrary. The pollster also said Jones’ war chest means he might be able to tap into Democratic activism that has boomed since Trump was elected.
“You have this organic Democratic energy built into the electorate already,” McCrary said. “Jones has the resources to pour gasoline on that.”