Ben Roback is a Senior Account Executive at Cicero Group and a member of the US Embassy’s Young Leaders UK programme.
In ardently Red-state Alabama, a unique special election is playing out. Propelling a Senate election to the national and international stage, Alabamans will go to the polls on December 12th in a unique set of circumstances and amidst a cloud of accusations that look set to determine the outcome of the race.
Washington DC and establishment Republicans have almost entirely turned against Judge Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate. But despite a tidal wave of criticism and calls to withdraw from within the leadership of his own party, Moore persists.
A collapse in trust in the traditional news media and the fading influence of Washington mean Moore feels he can withstand the pressure, while voters resist the news they are being fed. Local outlets have covered Moore closely, but corners of the right-wing media have been quick to describe the allegations as a ‘hit job’.
With election day approaching, it is impossible to predict what will happen next. Buoyed by gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia, could Democrats flip a Red state Blue against the odds?
State of the polls
The race is surprisingly in play, in a southern state that consistently votes Republican. Alabama hasn’t sent a Democratic senator to Washington since 1992; has a PVI score of R+14 on the Cook Partisan Voting Index; and Donald Trump won the state by over 20 points in November 2016.
Driving establishment support away from Moore are allegations of historic sexual misconduct, alleged by a series of women and published by the Washington Post. In another era, with corroborated evidence and a long list of witnesses, this kind of journalism would be considered watertight and impossible to defend against.
In the face of withdrawn endorsements from Republicans in the Senate and ignoring calls from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, Moore has steadfastly remained in the race. There is every indication that he could yet win.
Before the allegations were published, Democratic candidate Doug Jones was in the race but showed little sign of forward momentum. Since the allegations, the electoral picture is in flux. Polls conducted since the allegations have shown both candidates with alternating leads. One JMC Analytics poll, showing Jones ahead by four points, will be enough for a reinvigorated Democratic Party to ramp up their fundraising and targeted advertising.
The intervention of the party machine could distract the election from local issues. At present it is more of a local race and less of a referendum on Donald Trump, who remains popular in Alabama.
The establishment Republican Party has tried to drive Moore out of the race and the Republican National Committee (RNC) has cut ties with Moore’s joint fundraising committee. McConnell is considering entering Luther Strange as a write-in candidate, a move that would split the Republican vote and likely give the seat to the Democrats.
All of this points to the fading influence of Washington. The party structure calls for a candidate to resign – with good reason – and that is considered a badge of honour in fighting the establishment.
Creating even more distance between Alabama and Washington, the ultra-conservative Moore could benefit from the mass rejection from his party. He has already called on McConnell to resign, citing a failure of conservatives. Should Moore win, his support for key votes in legislation brought to the floor by Mitch McConnell is not guaranteed. That is likely to be part of McConnell’s political calculation.
The fading influence of the Washington establishment is complemented by a rapidly declining trust in traditional media outlets. In political cycles and generations gone by, this kind of watertight reporting by a known national newspaper caused candidates to stand down. But ever since ‘fake news’ entered the political zeitgeist that has swept America, voters have been questioning the news they are fed and the platforms on which it is consumed.
So Moore is almost free to challenge the legitimacy of the reporting, accusing the liberal media of hurling a political grenade at him, and some voters will agree.
Short of demands from the White House to step aside, the Republican Party is running out of ways to drive Moore out of the race. It could all point to the waning influence of the traditional power structures within Washington DC.