Democrat Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore in a special election earthquake Tuesday, flipping an Alabama Senate seat to Democrats for the first time in a quarter-century and dealing a huge political setback to President Donald Trump.
The Associated Press called the race for Jones, a former U.S. attorney, who had 49.9 percent of the vote to Moore’s 48.4 percent with all precincts reporting — a difference of more than 21,000 votes.
Still, Moore declined to concede, saying there were still military and other votes that need to be counted. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told CNN it would be "highly unusual and highly unlikely" for the outstanding ballots to change the results of the race.
In Alabama, an automatic recount is triggered when the margin between the two candidates is under 0.5 percentage points. A candidate, however, has the option of seeking a recount if the margin is wider than that but has to pay for it, Merrill said.
Barring a miracle, all of that pointed to a victory for Jones.
"I am truly overwhelmed," the Democratic told ebullient supporters in a Birmingham hotel ballroom after the race was called. "At the end of the day, this entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency."
Jones’ win — after Moore was accused of sexual assault and other misconduct by multiple women — will shrink Republicans’ already tenuous Senate majority to 51-49, just as the party approaches final consideration of its sweeping tax bill and prepares for the 2018 midterm elections in a difficult political environment.
Moore’s loss does relieve Senate Republicans from one burden: Considering whether they would expel him from the chamber if he won. But the party will have a reed-thin margin for error in the coming months as it tries to push through its agenda. And Moore's defeat was a major setback for Trump, who gave the candidate a full-throated endorsement in the final days of the race, in a state he carried with over 60 percent of the vote in 2016.
"Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory," Trump tweeted. "The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!"
The election is also a major defeat for the president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who as the head of Breitbart led a bare-knucles campaign to elect Moore and drag down Jones. Bannon had cast the race as an existential showdown between the activist base and Washington elites, but only to wind up on the losing end.
The president set up the election as one with outsized consequences for his administration and the GOP, tweeting repeatedly that Alabama could not afford to elect Jones. Trump also praised Moore at a rally in nearby Pensacola, Florida, and the Republican National Committee injected late money into the race after Trump reengaged.
It was a surreal scene at Moore's election night gathering in Montgomery.
The night started out with tons of energy in the room, but it dissipated as the vote returns accumulated until eventually the room fell silent. After the race was called but before Moore delivered his concession speech, a man took the stage and sang Christmas hymns.
When Moore emerged, he would not say the race was over, telling supporters that he wanted to consult with the secretary of state's office about next steps.
"Part of the problem with this campaign is we’ve been painted in unfavorable and unfaithful light," Jones said. "We’ve been put in a hole, if you will."
Trump’s late play for Moore went against the will of Senate Republicans, who abandoned Moore after women came forward to say that Moore had pursued relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, including one who described sexual contact with Moore when she was 14.
"The people of Alabama deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Cory Gardner, who had called for Moore to be thrown out of the Senate if elected. “I hope Senator-elect Doug Jones will do the right thing and truly represent Alabama by choosing to vote with the Senate Republican Majority.”
Steven Law, the president of the super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, blamed Bannon for Jones' victory.
“This is a brutal reminder that candidate quality matters regardless of where you are running,” Law said in a statement. “Not only did Steve Bannon cost us a critical Senate seat in one of the most Republican states in the country, but he also dragged the President of the United States into his fiasco.”
As Moore’s campaign fought scandal, Jones became cause of national Democrats eager to defeat the Republican. Online donors flooded his campaign with money as Jones criss-crossed Alabama focusing on what he called “kitchen table issues” (and rarely mentioning his party). His TV ads blanketed the airwaves, hammering Moore as a sexual predator while also introducing Jones as a Second Amendment-supporting federal prosecutor who had convicted Ku Klux Klansmen involved in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church during the civil rights era.
Jones rode a surge of energy among black voters and got a key bump from white-collar suburbanites who often vote Republican but turned away from the controversial Moore. The GOP nominee’s history of inflammatory comments about women, Muslims and LGBT people had already damaged his standing — and the sexual misconduct allegations scared more voters away.
Moore still won college-educated white voters 57 percent to 41 percent, according to the National Election Pool exit poll — but the group shifted hard in Democrats’ direction compared to past Alabama elections.
Trump prompted the special election by nominating former Sen. Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general. Jones will replace appointed Republican Sen. Luther Strange and will hold the Senate seat until 2020, when Sessions’ old term expires.
morning joe this morning spent quite some time slagging on how Roy Moore can't ride his horse properly. #freeThePony