This article has been corrected.
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — In Birmingham’s mostly white conservative suburbs, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore is an embarrassment. But some people here say they might vote for him anyway.
That’s because Moore — plagued by recent allegations that he courted and molested teenage girls — has tapped into two primal emotions among this segment of the well-educated middle class in the heart of Dixie: fear of perpetuating the stereotype that the state is ignorant and backwards, and the deep resentment many in Alabama feel about out-of-state folks telling them what to do.
“It’s embarrassing for Alabama and I don’t want to be the ignorant person who just votes for the party, but that seat in the Senate is also important,” Brooke Edmonds, a 37-year-old Republican accountant who can’t decide whether to vote for Moore, told VICE News.
Edmonds was splitting a bottle of red wine with a lawyer friend who was also undecided at the Avo cocktail bar in Mountain Brook, a ritzy suburb of Birmingham where Lexuses and Audis seem to outnumber Fords and Chevys.
The two zip codes covering Mountain Brook and surrounding suburbs like Homewood are the wealthiest and best-educated in Alabama and on par with the top in the country, with median incomes around or well above $100,000 per year and nearly 80 percent of adults with a college degree, according to a national zip code analysis by the Washington Post. Mountain Brook is also very conservative, with nearly all of the precincts in the area voting for Trump over Hillary in 2016 by 30 to 50 points, outpacing the state’s already wide margin of 28 points.
How people vote in places like wealthy Mountain Brook will likely determine the election. If Moore can hold onto the middle-class suburbs that largely voted for his primary opponent Luther Strange, he can win next month despite the scandal. If not, the Democrat in the race, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, could defy all contemporary rules of political physics and win statewide in this deep-red.
But at the moment, Moore’s candidacy has the wealthy suburbs dazed and divided. Many are embarrassed to be a national sideshow and find it difficult to dismiss all of the mainstream media’s reporting on Moore, now 70, making unwanted sexual advances on several teenagers when he was a 30-something district attorney. But they also want to elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate and feel a tinge of resentment about outsiders coming in and writing exposés that draw national scorn to the state.
“I know the media can conjure up all sorts of things,” David Pendarvis, a 45-year-old plumber, told VICE News outside Davenport’s Pizza Palace. “I think the country has become so partisan that I may have to vote my party and then let the Senate figure out what they are going to do with him. At least there will be an ‘R’ there.”
Some say they’re suspicious of The Washington Post, the first outlet to report the allegations against Moore, which included bringing a 14-year-old girl to his home, undressing her, and touching her over her underwear while guiding her hand to his underwear.
“It was a long time for these women to hold it under their hat so I’m not sure about the allegations,” against Moore said Pendarvis’ wife, Amber, who also said she’d likely end up voting for Moore.
It’s not as if the suburbs like Moore. In over two dozen conversations in Mountain Brook and nearby suburbs, Moore was often described as one in a long line of embarrassing, showboating Alabama politicians from George Wallace, who vowed “segregation forever,” to their most recent governor who resigned last spring after being arrested for misusing campaign funds in connection with an affair with a political adviser.
But there is a defensiveness about acceding to the denunciations from national Republicans and damning media reports. Some Alabamians say they’ve had enough of the media scolds lecturing them from TV studios in New York City and Atlanta.
“I think there’s a lot of people in Alabama saying ‘It’s okay for us to say that about him but not you,’” said Keith Arendall, a realtor and lifelong Republican who was grabbing a drink at the Avo cocktail bar with a Democratic lawyer.
Arendall said he would not vote for Moore. “He ain’t right,” he said, and then repeated it in a pleasant southern drawl. But he added that he would either not vote or write-in a candidate before voting for a Democrat.
And he’s not alone. Several lifelong Republicans in the suburbs also told VICE News that Moore was so anathema to them that they may pull the lever for a Democrat. “I’ve never even voted for a Democrat,” said Kelly West, a 60-something interior designer. “But Moore is just way way out there. Right-wing doesn’t even begin to explain it.”
Ted Thomas, a 71-year-old executive at an insurance company and a lifelong Republican sipping a whiskey on the rocks at a bar on Friday evening, added that “in good conscience, I just couldn’t vote for Moore. Any time there’s that much smoke there’s gotta be fire.”
Politics of embarrassment
But experts in Southern politics say that discomfort alone might not be enough to swing a state election. “The question of whether this state’s citizens can be embarrassed is interesting,” said Kari Frederickson, a history professor at University of Alabama who specializes in the modern South. “The answer: not enough of them. They wear the country’s disdain as a badge of honor.”
That may be why the state Republican Party has stuck with Moore even as the national party has withdrawn its support. “Alabamians will be the ultimate jury in this election; not the media or those from afar,” Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan said in statement this week. She added that Moore ought to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
“Some people here just want to give the middle finger to everybody and if Moore survives, that will be why,” said Danner Kline, a Democrat running for Alabama’s 6th congressional district which covers most of Birmingham’s suburbs, told VICE News. “It’s Alabama against the world. You expect that in small towns, but even in the suburbs it’s still an us versus them mentality.”
But for many in suburbia, any resentment has turned into resignation.
“It’s always something embarrassing,” Jen Jackson, a 26-year-old bartender at Mountain Brook’s Mafiaoza’s restaurant, said of Alabama politics. “It’s a running joke among my realtor friends that they can’t sell houses with Roy Moore signs on them.”
But Jackson said she was more likely to not vote at all than vote for Jones and expressed frustration that the race for a U.S. Senate seat had been reduced to “sex scandals instead of real issues.”
“I haven’t heard anything about Syria or, you know, the world in months,” she said.”
Clay Martinis, a 40-year-old chiropractor eating Hawaiian pizza at Mafiaoza’s with his wife, was also depressed that the election had devolved to “whether you believe the women accusers or not, nothing else matters.”
Martinis said he didn’t plan on voting.
“I just want him to lose so it will just go away.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed the comments made by Keith Arrendel to another person. The article has been updated to reflect that it was Mr. Arrendel who made these remarks.