A US Senate by-election will be held in Alabama on 12 December, caused by the resignation of Republican Senator Jeff Sessions to become Trump’s Attorney-General. Luthar Strange, an establishment Republican, was appointed by the Alabama governor as a temporary Senator in February until the by-election.
In late September, Roy Moore defeated Strange 54.6-45.4 in the Republican primary runoff, winning the Republican nomination. Moore has taken hard right positions on many issues, and suggested in August that the September 11 terrorist attacks were a punishment by God for declining religiosity.
Alabama is a very culturally conservative state, and no Democrat has won an Alabama Senate contest since 1992, when current Republican Senator Richard Shelby was re-elected before switching parties in 1994. Before the 1990’s, Alabama’s Senators were Democrats, but this was because southern Democrats during this period were very conservative. Trump crushed Clinton 62-34 in Alabama.
Early this morning Melbourne time, the Washington Post reported that Moore had had a sexual encounter with a 14 year-old girl when he was 32 that involved removal of clothing and genital touching.
Even before the Post story, the RealClearPolitics poll average showed that Moore led Democrat Doug Jones by 48-42. A six-point Republican lead is way below expectations in a state as conservative as Alabama, showing that Moore has little appeal outside his evangelical base.
A Democrat win in Alabama would reduce the Republicans to a 51-49 Senate majority. The Republicans were unable to repeal Obamacare with 52 Senators, so a loss of one seat would make their agenda even harder to pass.
Furthermore, an Alabama victory would make it easier for Democrats to win the Senate at the 2018 midterm elections. Senators have six-year terms, with 1/3 up every two years. In 2012, Democrats won the 33 seats up 25-8, so they will be defending 25 seats next year, and Republicans only 8. This Republican Alabama Senate seat is next up for election in 2020.
Moore’s name cannot be taken off the ballot paper. Another Republican could run as a “write-in” candidate (voters write in that candidate’s name in a space provided), but such a campaign would risk splitting the Republican vote and allowing Jones to win with well under a vote majority. Moore is definitely not dropping out, as can be seen from the tweet below.
Prior to the 2016 election, many women accused Trump of groping them without consent, and a lewd tape emerged. Trump’s poll ratings dropped, but they recovered soon, and he won the election despite losing the popular vote. Despite a lifestyle antithetical to evangelical values, Trump won evangelical voters crushingly at the election, as they much preferred his policies to Clinton’s.
Although Moore is underperforming in Alabama, he may already have deterred those who would have changed their minds based on the Post’s story. Evangelicals are likely to dismiss this story as liberal media lies designed to get their candidate. Still, Jones only needs a relatively small swing from the current six-point Moore margin to win.
Trump and other prominent national Republicans have called on Moore to stand down if the allegations are true. As these allegations cannot be proved before the election, Trump and national Republicans are not really disendorsing Moore.
A ReachTEL poll of the SA seat of Hartley for Channel 7, conducted 8 November from a sample of 610, gave Nick Xenophon a 53-47 lead over the Liberals, a 3 point gain for Xenophon since a ReachTEL poll taken after he announced his candidacy. A Galaxy poll taken at that time gave Xenophon a 53-47 lead.
Primary votes in ReachTEL were 36.4% Liberal (down 0.3), 29.3% Xenophon (up 7.6) and 20.7% Labor (up 1.0). Xenophon’s gains presumably come from undecided, which we do not have a figure for. Undecided voters in ReachTEL polls are actually leaners, but media reports often omit which way they lean.
Authors: Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne