Campaign wraps up in toxic Alabama Senate race


Birmingham (United States) (AFP)

Alabama's intensely-watched Senate race reached its final campaign day Monday, with President Donald Trump urging loyalists to elect the Republican standard-bearer Roy Moore despite accusations he molested minors decades ago.

As the race came down to the wire on the eve of voting in this conservative bastion and unexpected battleground, energized Democrats pulled out the stops, recruiting Barack Obama to rally support for the party's challenger, Doug Jones.

"This one's serious. You can't sit it out," the former president says in a robocall ahead of Tuesday's special election. "So get out and vote, Alabama."

Trump has put out a call of his own, telling residents that "I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore."

Until recently it had been unimaginable for a Republican to lose a statewide election in Alabama, which Trump carried handily and which has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992.

But Moore's candidacy turned toxic for the Republican Party after the Washington Post published the first of multiple accusations by women who claim he sexually molested or pursued them when they were in their teens and he was a state attorney in his thirties.

One of the women says she was 14 when Moore brought her to his home and molested her. Moore, now 70, denies the allegations.

Some in the Republican establishment have sought to distance themselves from Moore, and as a signal of the lack of enthusiasm, pro-Moore campaign signs outside residents' homes are seldom seen.

But with Republicans clinging to a razor thin majority in the US Senate, Trump -- who himself was infamously caught on tape boasting about groping women -- has given Moore his political blessing.

- Controversial conservative -

The latest survey by Fox News put the Democrat Jones ahead by 10 points, although a new Emerson poll has Moore ahead by nearly that much. The two are competing to replace Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to become US attorney general.

Moore was a controversial figure even before the latest allegations against him: twice elected chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, he was twice dismissed from the post, first in 2003 for refusing an order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the court house.

In 2016, he defied the US Supreme Court by refusing to apply its decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

It's a pragmatic alliance between the US president's economic populism and Moore's religious activism.

Stephen Bannon, the former White House strategist who proclaimed himself the guardian of the Trump revolution, will be appearing alongside Moore at a final "Drain the Swamp rally" late Monday in Midland City.

It will be the first public campaign event in six days for the candidate, who has been nearly invisible this past week apart from his flood of TV campaign ads.

"It's just a shocking and appalling state of affairs when a man can be an accused child molester that can still have the support of the president of the United States," said Zandy Moyo, an African-American Alabama voter, reflecting on the circumstance facing Republicans.

- Divided Republicans -

For the Republican majority in Washington, the election is a loser in every way. Should Moore prevail, party leaders fear being soiled by association. Should he lose, their thin Senate majority of 52 out of 100 seats will shrink to 51, allowing Trump virtually no room for maneuver.

The president is facing a tight vote on his controversial tax cut bill, which he hopes will be his first major legislative victory. He can afford just two defectors. If Moore loses, that margin slips to one.

Yet if Moore wins, it could spell campaign gold for Democrats heading into next year's mid-term elections, admits Senate Republican Lindsey Graham.

"Roy Moore will be the gift that keeps on giving for Democrats," Graham told CNN. "It will define the 2018 election."

Jones, 63, is a former federal prosecutor known for having convicted two Ku Klux Klan members for bombing a black church in Birmingham, killing four African-American girls.

To win, he will need to mobilize the Democratic base, including the black community that Obama targeted with his robocall.

"I've been involved in politics for over 50 years, and I've seen it turn from Democrat to Republican" in Alabama, Jefferson County Democratic Party chairman Richard Mauk said.

"I never realized that we would have a chance like this."

Mauk, a lawyer, insists he knows a number of Republican professionals who will cross party lines and vote for Jones.

But Jones's support for abortion rights is anathema to many Republicans, who may choose to write in another candidate aside from the two on the ballot.