BIRMINGHAM, Ala., (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore touted his ties to President Donald Trump yesterday in the final stretch of an election campaign in Alabama in which Moore has battled accusations of sexual misconduct toward teenagers.
On the eve of Tuesday’s election, Moore, a conservative Christian and former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, was holding a rally in Midland City, Alabama, where he was to be joined by Steve Bannon, Trump’s close ally and former chief strategist.
In an echo of Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge to get rid of Washington insiders, Moore labeled his Monday rally a “Drain the Swamp” event. Bannon, an executive at the right-wing Breitbart News site, has been one of Moore’s staunchest supporters.
Moore, 70, will face off against Democrat Doug Jones, 63, a former U.S. attorney who is hoping to pull off an upset victory in deeply conservative Alabama, which has sent only Republicans to the U.S. Senate for the past 20 years.
Moore has been accused by several women of pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, including one woman who said he tried to initiate sexual contact with her when she was 14. Moore has denied any misconduct. Reuters has not independently verified any of the accusations.
The Alabama race has divided Trump’s Republican Party.
The sexual misconduct accusations prompted many senior Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to distance themselves from Moore.
But Trump has endorsed Moore and taped a “robo-call” that the campaign has rolled out urging voters to back the Republican candidate in order to help support the president’s agenda.
Democrats also made robo-calls using two of their party’s own big guns – former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden.
A Fox News Poll conducted on Thursday and released on Monday put Jones ahead of Moore, with Jones potentially taking 50 percent of the vote and Moore 40 percent. Fox said 8 percent of voters were undecided and 2 percent supported another candidate.
An average of recent polls by the RealClearPolitics website showed Moore ahead by a slight margin of 2.2 percentage points.
Jones has cast himself as a “voice for reason” for Alabama and has touted a record that includes prosecuting former Ku Klux Klan members responsible for the 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham in which four girls were killed.
Jones has spent the past week rallying African-Americans, the most reliably Democratic voters in the state, and hammering Moore in television ads. He has told supporters that his campaign is a chance to be on the “right side of history for the state of Alabama.”
If Jones wins on Tuesday, Republicans would control the Senate by a slim 51-49 margin, giving Democrats much-needed momentum ahead of the November 2018 congressional elections, when control of both chambers of Congress will be at stake.
Moore’s campaign has cast Jones as a liberal out of step with Alabama voters, seizing on the Democrat’s support of abortion rights.
Many Republican officials in Alabama, including Governor Kay Ivey, say they will vote for Moore. But the state’s senior Republican senator, Richard Shelby, said he did not vote for Moore and instead backed a write-in candidate on his absentee ballot, telling CNN that Alabama “deserves better” than Moore.
Moore, who was twice removed from the state Supreme Court for refusing to abide by federal law, may find a chilly reception in Washington if he wins. Republican leaders have said Moore could face an ethics investigation if Alabama voters send him to the U.S. Senate.
Democrats have signaled they may use Moore’s election to tar Republicans as insensitive to women’s concerns at a time when allegations of sexual harassment have caused many prominent men working in politics, entertainment, media and business to lose their jobs.