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Everything at Stake in the Alabama Special Election

Here are the consequences of a Doug Jones victory or a Roy Moore triumph

On Tuesday, the people of Alabama will decide who will fill the Senate seat that was left empty when Jeff Sessions went off to be the Trump administration's attorney general. While Alabama is normally a Republican stronghold, the race is neck and neck, in large part because multiple women have accused Republican nominee Roy Moore of preying on them when they were teenagers, which he denies.

One of Moore's accusers, Beverly Young Nelson, claimed that in 1977, when she was 16, Moore trapped her in his car. "He began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head onto his crotch. I continued to struggle," she said at a November press conference. "I thought that he was going to rape me." Nelson said Moore eventually let her go, and told her, "You're just a child, I am the district attorney of Etowah County and if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you."


But Moore's opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, doesn't have this one in the bag despite the allegations. Moore and his allies (including Donald Trump and Breitbart) have insisted that these accusations are actually the product of an insanely complicated conspiracy against him. And Moore, who has declined to make many public appearances in the days before the election, is determined to pivot to the issues, or actually just one issue: abortion. In a video from a pro-Trump superPAC in which a 12-year-old girl interviewed the alleged pedophile, Rich Hobson, Moore's campaign manager, told the preteen that the biggest issue in the race is "the pro-life issue."

"Our opponent, he believes in abortion up until the day a baby is born," Hobson said. While this is blatantly untrue—Jones's position on late-term abortion is that "the law for decades has been that late-term procedures are generally restricted except in the case of medical necessity"—the fact that Jones is a pro-choice candidate running in a pro-life state might swing the race in Moore's favor.

Even apart from the grotesque sexual misconduct allegations against him, Moore is a controversial Republican who combines the most intense race-baiting instincts of Trump with the theocratic policies of a Southern evangelical conservative. In 2005, he said that "homosexual conduct should be illegal." He's also said that women are unfit to run for office and that getting rid of the constitutional amendments after the Tenth—which includes the abolition of slavery and voting rights for women—would "eliminate many problems." It's a combination of this extremism and his scandals that have some Republicans shying away from Moore; on Sunday Richard Shelby, Alabama's senior senator, made news when he said that he didn't vote for Moore (he wrote in the name of an unidentified Republican on his absentee ballot).


Two polls released early Monday were wildly divergent, with one having Jones up by ten points and the other having Moore up by nine. In other words, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Here's a rundown of the consequences that will come with either result:

If Jones wins…

Fifty-two Republicans are currently serving in the Senate, with 46 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, so a Jones win would make the GOP senate majority even narrower. In the short term, it could also disrupt the passage of the highly controversial Republican tax bill, which was narrowly passed by the Senate earlier this month and is now going through the process of reconciliation. The vote was 51–49, and Maine Republican Susan Collins says she's not sure she'll vote for the final version depending on what it includes. If she's a no, and Tennessee's Bob Corker (the lone Republican no last vote) stays opposed to it, then Jones could come to the Senate and drive a stake through the heart of the GOP's latest legislative effort. (There's a lot of ifs in that scenario, but it's a Democratic fantasy that has at least a chance of coming true.)

A Jones win would also send a strong message for what's to come in the 2018 midterm election, suggesting that the bigotry and misogyny of Trumpism is not a winning political strategy. If Moore can't win in Alabama, where can "anti-establishment" (read: "openly racist") candidates thrive?


If Moore wins…

Although a Roy Moore win might feel like a blow to the #MeToo movement, it could end up giving the Democrats a gift. Republicans were slow to back Moore, with Trump even (perhaps reluctantly) stumping for his opponent Luther Strange during the primary, but have since thrown their full support behind the alleged child predator. The Republican National Committee stopped funding him after the allegations against him were published in the Washington Post, but changed course after Trump endorsed him last week.

“Roy Moore will be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats. It will define the 2018 election, at least 2018,” Republican senator Lindsey Graham said on CNN Monday morning. There will likely be calls, given the rash of sexual misconduct scandals in Congress, for an ethics investigation into Moore as soon as he takes his seat. Moore is likely to stay in the news long after he wins.

That would give the Democrats the opportunity to frame the GOP as an amoral entity that supports even the most despicable of candidates, as long as they vote for an agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy and no healthcare for the poor. The Democrats could surely do this regardless of whether Moore is elected—look who's in the Oval Office—but him winning a seat in the Senate would only amplify how astonishingly unscrupulous the Republican Party has become.

Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.