Ala. elects Jones to Senate amid faith appeals
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP) -- Democrat Doug Jones' election to the U.S. Senate in Alabama last night (Dec. 12) over controversial social conservative Roy Moore capped a campaign in which both sides appealed to faith and values.
In a state where President Trump, a Republican, defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by nearly 28 points in 2016, Jones bested Moore by a 1.5-point margin in the special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. With the Republican Moore beset by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, the pro-choice Jones cobbled together a voting coalition of African Americans, liberal whites and moderate Republicans, the Associated Press reported.
Jones, a former U.S. attorney and graduate of Samford University law school, is perhaps best known for his prosecution 15 years ago of two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for bombing Birmingham's African American Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963.
Michael Wesley, pastor of predominantly African American Greater Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Birmingham, told Baptist Press Jones' efforts to bring the Sixteenth Street bombers to justice for the deaths of four young girls were among the reasons 96 percent of black voters supported him.
"Candidate quality had more to do with" African Americans' support of Jones "than anything else," said Wesley, a board member at the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP), the Alabama Baptist Convention's public policy auxiliary.
"Doug Jones has demonstrated a fairness and a willingness to support all people equally," Wesley said. "Certainly in a day gone by, he stood up to defend the situation at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and bring to justice those who were responsible for the bombing of that church."
Jones "stood on the issues," Wesley said, and did not engage in mudslinging. Another factor in the election, the pastor said, was allegations Moore, 70, engaged in sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
"African Americans and African American Christians felt that there was a moral referendum against the state of Alabama," Wesley said. "The nation was watching this state" to see if voters would promote "moral judgment" among those "going into leadership and political offices."
Voter turnout for the special election was higher than anticipated at 40 percent of registered voters, with African Americans comprising at least 30 percent of the electorate, NPR reported. African Americans constitute just under 27 percent of Alabama's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Voters identified by media as "white evangelicals" decreased by three percentage points as a portion of the electorate in comparison with the 2008 and 2012 elections, according to The Washington Post. So-called white evangelicals were "the only group showing slight signs of slippage" from 2008 and 2012 levels, The Post reported.
Joe Godfrey, ALCAP's executive director, said "people were just disgusted with" the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore. Though the allegations are "unproven, there was enough there that concerned people."
Some 23,000 write-in votes cast in the special election were well above normal for an Alabama Senate contest, Newsweek reported, and eclipsed Jones' 21,000-vote victory margin. Among prominent Republicans to suggest GOP voters should support a write-in candidate rather than Moore was Alabama's other U.S. senator, Richard Shelby.
"Most of the Christians I know were conflicted in what to do," Godfrey told BP. They didn't want to support somebody who had that many accusations against him. But at the same time, they didn't want to support somebody who's pro-abortion."
According to the AL.com news website, Jones expressed support for "a woman's freedom to choose" abortion multiple times during the campaign. He opposed restrictions on late-term abortion in a campaign interview with MSNBC only to express support for such restrictions in a later interview with AL.com.
Moore is a Southern Baptist and two-time Alabama chief justice who has long drawn media attention for controversial stands like refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Judicial Building and advising probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses even after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage. He was removed from office for his action related to the monument and suspended for the remainder of his second term over the same-sex marriage advice to probate judges.
Mike McBride, a black California pastor who traveled to Alabama to assist the Jones campaign, said individuals commonly labeled white evangelicals by the mainstream media are not the only group of voters who believe they are standing for biblical values.
The sexual abuse allegations against Moore as well as a perception he has been racially insensitive, McBride told NPR, "animated the base of Christians and faith leaders. All these evangelicals who claim that they have a corner on Jesus -- the black church stood up and said that the true Jesus of liberation and justice will always overpower the Jesus of dominance and racial hierarchy and division."
Moore told supporters Tuesday night the Senate race is "not over," perhaps indicating he will wait for the vote to be certified and urge a recount, NPR reported.
If Jones' victory holds -- a likely prospect according to analysts -- Republicans' majority in the Senate will narrow to 51-49. Jones would be the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama since 1992 and would face reelection in 2020.