Democrat wins Senate seat

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Democratic Alabama Senate candidate Doug Jones waves in Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday. Reuters

BIRMINGHAM (Reuters) – Democrat Doug Jones won a bitter fight for a US Senate seat in deeply conservative Alabama yesterday, dealing a political blow to President Donald Trump in a race defined by sexual misconduct accusations against Republican candidate Roy Moore.

The upset makes Mr Jones the first Democrat elected to the US Senate from Alabama in a quarter-century and will trim the Republicans’ already narrow Senate majority to 51-49, opening the door for Democrats to possibly retake the chamber in next year’s congressional elections.

Mr Jones, who cast himself on the campaign trail as the candidate who could reach across the aisle and get things done in Washington, is expected to take office early in January, after the results are certified.

His election was not expected to affect pending votes in Congress on funding the government or overhauling the US tax code, as Republican congressional leaders have vowed action on those bills before Christmas.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Mr Jones led by 1.5 percentage points over Mr Moore, who refused to concede.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said it was “highly unlikely” the outcome would change. “The people of Alabama have spoken,” he told CNN.

The ugly campaign drew national attention and split the Republican Party following accusations by several women that Mr Moore sexually assaulted or pursued them when they were teens and he was in his 30s.

Mr Moore, 70, a Christian conservative twice removed from the state Supreme Court in Alabama for ignoring federal law, denied the
allegations and said he did not know any of the women involved.

Mr Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor, portrayed the campaign as a referendum on decency and promised the state’s voters he would not embarrass them in Washington.

“I have always believed that the people of Alabama have more in common than divides us,” Mr Jones told supporters at his victory party.

Mr Trump, who congratulated Mr Jones in a tweet late Tuesday night, yesterday tried to cast the win in a different light. The president had joined establishment Republicans in the primary by backing Luther Strange, who filled the seat when Jeff Sessions left to serve as Mr Trump’s attorney general. After Mr Moore won the Republican nomination, Mr Trump endorsed Moore.

“The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!” Mr Trump said on Twitter.

Network exit polls showed Mr Trump was not a factor in the decision for about half of Alabama voters.

“It had zero to do with Donald Trump,” Republican US Rep Bradley Byrne of Alabama told MSNBC yesterday. The race was “a purely weird, unique election” not a harbinger of the 2018 midterm elections.

But US Senator Chris Van Hollen, who heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called the victory “a political earthquake”.

“You see voters who are fed up, and they want to send the message that they don’t like Trumpism,” Mr Van Hollen said on MSNBC. “This was a big rejection of the ugly, divisive politics that Donald Trump has brought to the country.”

As a US attorney Mr Jones helped win the convictions in 2001 and 2002 of members of the Ku Klux Klan for the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church that killed four little girls.

The sexual misconduct allegations against Mr Moore came at a time when many powerful men, including Mr Trump, have faced similar
accusations.

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