Alabama Senate: A Jump Ball

The special election between Republican former state Supreme Court Justice Roy and Democratic attorney Doug Jones is just five days away, and all signs point to a very close finish. And, regardless of which candidate wins, the outcome won’t be good for Senate Republicans.

The political community seems to be divided into three camps at this point, and these camps don’t necessarily break along party lines. The first camp is made up of those who can’t conceive any outcome other than a Moore victory in such a heavily Republican state, regardless of what has transpired in the race. The second camp believes that Moore probably wins, but it will be close. The third camp sees a path to victory for Jones and is cautiously optimistic that voters will see that keeping Moore out of the Senate is more important than Jones’ party affiliation.


This week, our friends at NBC News’ First Read made the point that Jones enjoys far more structural advantages going into the final days than Moore does, citing five specific areas in which Jones has far outperformed Moore. It is a succinct way of summing up where the race stands, so we’ll “borrow” their outline and add more data points.

Money:

Jones has outraised Moore for the entire contest by a more than 2-1 margin, $11.8 million to $5.15 million. Overall, Jones brought in $6.5 million in unitemized contributions (contributions of less than $200), compared to Moore, who got $2.24 million in small-dollar donations.

What’s even more remarkable is that a vast majority of Jones’ receipts came between October 1 and November 22 when the pre-election report was filed. In that 53-day period, Jones collected $10.2 million, while Moore took in just $1.77 million.

Jones entered the final three weeks of the campaign is better financial shape with $2.54 million in bank. Moore posted a cash-on-hand balance of just $636,046 as of November 22.

While it would be easy to blame Moore’s lackluster fundraising on the allegations of sexual misconduct brought against him, the fact is that he was outraised in both the primary and the run-off. And, yes, he won both of those races, but the general election is dictated by different dynamics. By contrast, Jones has been able to run a gold-standard campaign with every bell and whistle.

Advertising:

Jones has also dominated the airwaves, and has been the only candidate on the air for large stretches of time. Between September 27 and December 5, the Jones campaign aired 12 different ads for a total spot count of 19,357, according to Kantar Media/CMAG. In addition, Highway 31 PAC, a super PAC supporting Jones, aired two different ads for a total spot count of 1,861, bringing the total spot count to 21,218. These numbers don’t reflect five new spots that went on the air as of December 6; Highway 31 put up two new ads, while Stand Up Republic joined the fray with one ad and the Jones campaign added another spot. America First Action put up the fifth spot, an ad that attacked Jones on abortion.

The Moore campaign has aired four separate ads since the run-off for a total spot count of 3,202. Proven Conservative PAC aired two different ads, but the buy was small with a spot count of just 205. Thus, the total spot count for GOP ads was 3,407.

To put it another way, the spot total for all advertisers in the campaign was 24,625, 86 percent of which were aired by the Jones campaign and its allies.

Enthusiasm:

Democratic enthusiasm has been evident in races at every level this year whether it was gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, special elections in congressional districts, or special elections for state legislative seats. Regardless of the outcome, Democratic overperformed in these races. There is no reason that this trend won’t continue in Alabama. Democratic strategists contend that this enthusiasm has been evident in all their polling since the run-off and that Moore’s problems have just added to the intensity.

A low-turnout special election:

We have said from the beginning that a special election two weeks before Christmas is likely to see low voter turnout. And more difficult still is that it is very hard to predict which voters will go to the polls. The biggest questions are now about Republican votes. There is little question that Moore has a loyal following of social and evangelical Republicans who are very likely to go to the polls. What about more establishment Republicans? Will they stay home; follow GOP U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby’s lead and write in the name of a “distinguished Republican;” or cross over and vote for Jones? Write-ins could make up one to two percent of the total vote, which is significant. The answer to this question probably determines the outcome of the race.

If there is one thing that concerns Democratic strategists it’s the potential impact of Trump’s endorsement and rally across the state line in Pensacola might have on turnout. Just motivating 25,000 voters would matter here.

A historically bad opponent:

The fact that Moore is still in this race speaks to the heavily Republican nature of the state. In almost any other circumstance, a candidate facing the allegations that Moore is would have stepped aside. It is worth remembering that Moore has mixed record when it comes to elections. He has won his share, but he has also lost two gubernatorial primaries. In this race, the mechanics of his campaign have been weak from fundraising and paid media to voter contact. In addition, he has made few campaign appearances, particularly since the scandal broke on November 9. And, remarkably there hasn’t been a debate in the general election.  


For all of Jones’ structural advantages, Moore has one powerful one: the heavily Republican nature of the state. President Trump took 62 percent of the vote here and a Democratic U.S. Senate nominee hasn’t broken 40 percent of the vote since 1996. In fact, Moore’s message is simply that he should be elected because he’s a Republican.  

It is questionable how useful the public polling is in this race since the turnout is so unpredictable. That doesn’t mean that there haven’t been plenty of polls. There have been 15 polls released since The Washington Post broke the story of Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct on November 9. Moore has been ahead in eight of them with leads that have ranged from two to 10 points. Jones has had the lead in six of the 15 polls, with advantages ranging from one to eight points. The final poll had the race tied.  

The good news for Moore is that he has been ahead in three of the four most recent surveys, which accounts for his +2.3 point advantage in the RealClearPolitics polling average. Strategists who have seen polling on both sides contend that the race is within the margin of error and has been since mid-November. Our sense is that the outcome is likely to be close regardless of who wins.  

This race has become a nightmare for Senate Republicans and there really isn’t any good outcome for them. If Moore wins, then they will be dealing with an unpredictable incumbent who seems to enjoy generating controversy, and one who will be facing an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. Given Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s resignation announcement yesterday, Republicans will really have no choice but to pursue an Ethics Committee investigation against Moore, and if that investigation finds any of the allegations against him credible, to follow through with a resolution to expel him. After Trump endorsed Moore this week, our email box was full of press releases from Democrats demanding that Republican incumbent X or GOP Senate/House/gubernatorial candidate Y weighs in on Moore and the allegations against him. This will certainly continue if Moore is in the Senate. In short, Moore becomes something of a virus that threatens to infect his colleagues.  

If, on the other hand, Jones scores an upset, Republicans’ majority would shrink to 51 to 49 Democrats, making it more difficult to move legislation. As important, it puts Democrats in a position to compete for the majority next November since they would only have to score a net gain of two seats. This is a scenario that was unfathomable a year ago.  

In short, a Jones victory would make 2018 a very, very long year for Republicans.