Alabamians might 'hold their nose' to back Roy Moore for one reason — abortion

Alabama's Senate election might be defined by sexual misconduct allegations, but its outcome could be decided by how willing voters in one of the reddest states in the union are to support pro-choice Democrat Doug Jones.

Senate candidate's sexual misconduct allegations 'superseded' by pro-life sentiment, Democrat says

Alabama Senate candidates Democrat Doug Jones, left, and Roy Moore, are shown during campaign events leading up to the Dec. 12, 2017, special election. The race is neck and neck as Moore faces a string of sexual misconduct allegations, but experts say Jones's pro-choice stance, unpopular in conservative Alabama, may be enough to help Moore clinch a victory. (Getty, Reuters)

Suzanne Michelle can scarcely hold it in any longer when it comes to Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. At her Friday Bible study social, the Alabama Democrat is so troubled by Moore's alleged sexual misconduct involving teen girls that she's taken to applying Jesus's teachings to today's politics.

Michelle, 34, wants to know how anyone, including right-leaning Christians she sometimes socializes with, can square the "biblical truths" by which they all abide with what she sees as a "single-issue voting population."

"From people who are friends of mine, who have different political ideologies, they hold matters of the soul in super-high regard. And they keep coming down hard on this one single issue," she said.

"The abortion issue."

Indeed, while the Dec. 12 special election pitting Moore against former prosecutor Doug Jones may be defined by sexual misconduct, its outcome could be decided by how willing Alabamians are to support a pro-choice candidate in Jones. 
Suzanne Michelle, a Democrat in Alabama, worries about Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore's alleged sexual misconduct involving teen girls. (Suzanne Michelle)

Conservatives in Dixie are already redefining the neck-and-neck race in their own terms.

In a bizarre display of TV punditry on Tuesday, Moore campaign spokesperson Janet Porter used the example of CNN anchor Poppy Harlow's pregnancy to argue that the true child abuse issue isn't that Moore allegedly molested two underage girls when he was in his mid-30s.

"If you care about child abuse," Porter told the CNN host, "you should be talking about the fact that Judge Moore stands for protection … for the rights of babies like your eight month-baby that you're carrying now."

Porter told Harlow that Jones supports being able to "take the life of that baby."

Harlow, who managed a tight smile through repeated references to her pregnancy, cut back in firmly.

"Let's leave my child out of this."

Porter's CNN segment came the morning after the Republican National Committee turned the funding spigot back on for Moore following U.S. President Donald Trump's strong endorsement of the former state judge.

As critics accused the Republican Party of forsaking all moral authority for re-embracing Moore, despite congressional leaders saying they believed his accusers' accounts of sexual assault, the Moore campaign machine continued to torque the right-to-life debate.

Last month, Moore's wife, Kayla, said Jones is "for full-term abortion," apparently coining a term for abortions after 20 weeks. Jones has said he supports laws restricting later abortions, unless there's a medical necessity.

Abortion was declared legal in the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade. But Moore's surrogates, including Porter, are framing the election as a battle for a Republican Senate seat that could help nominate a future pro-life judge to the Supreme Court.

Moore participates in the Mid-Alabama Republican Club's Veterans Day program in Vestavia Hills, Ala., on Nov. 11. U.S. President Donald Trump endorsed the embattled Senate candidate Monday, despite sexual misconduct allegations against Moore. (Marvin Gentry/Reuters)

For Jones, winning in Alabama would be a remarkable feat, considering it's one of the reddest states in the union. Most registered voters (58 per cent) believe abortion should be illegal, according to a CBS/YouGov poll this week.

"I suspect that abortion is not just an important issue, but a vote-determining issue for a lot of Alabama Republicans," said Joseph Smith, chair of the political science department at the University of Alabama.

Likely working in Moore's favour are the state's deeply ingrained political culture and simple force of habit at the polls, he said.

"It's going to take something striking, some big event, to make them go from supporting a Republican to supporting a Democrat," Smith said. "They're psychologically voting Republican. And if they're still looking for a reason to support the GOP despite the allegations of sexual misconduct, abortion provides that reason."

The rationale is wrapped up in emotion, politics and religion. Around 86 per cent of Alabamians profess to be Christian, according to the Pew Research Center.

Robby Johnson, right, a Democrat helping Senate candidate Doug Jones, says he believes opposition to the pro-choice candidate 'supersedes' any potential concerns about Moore's sexual misconduct allegations. (Robby Johnson)

Robby Johnson, 46, a marketing professional from Tuscaloosa who has been canvassing for Jones, said his feeling is that the abortion issue "supersedes" the Moore accusations. His conversations with conservatives have been frustrating for those dug into the idea that Jones's pro-choice stance is a nonstarter.

"If you can't get traction on sexual misconduct, it slips right back to abortion," he said.

Trump won 62 per cent of the Alabama vote in the 2016 general election. With the president's clear endorsement and the continued flow of RNC cash, Moore now has unequivocal Republican establishment support in a state where tribalist politics play an especially strong role in elections, said Glen Browder, a former Democratic congressman for Alabama.

"Abortion is certainly a major factor, but there's also Alabama populism. They don't trust outsiders," he said. "These blockbuster allegations might have knocked [Moore] out for a while, but a lot of Alabamians are simply going to hold their nose on that and say it's more important not to send a Democrat to Washington."

A composite photo shows Moore flanked by women who accused him of sexual misconduct when they were teens and Moore was in his 30s. Leigh Corfman, left, said she was 14 when she was assaulted by Moore. Beverly Young Nelson, right, alleges she was assaulted by Moore about 40 years ago when she was 16. (Reuters)

On that point, at least, James Bennett, the Republican chair in Calhoun County, agrees.

"I don't know if [the abortion issue] is strong enough to tip it or not for Roy Moore," said Bennett, "but I'm sure it's got a major impact for him."

As for the bevy of accusations about Moore pursuing teens, and a report that he was once banned from a local mall for badgering girls, Bennett said Republicans he knows have grown "numb" to the allegations.

Not so for Anne Stickney, 63. The Republican voter and retired special-education teacher in Tuscaloosa is disgusted by Moore's alleged behaviour. She supported Trump reluctantly last year. She's also a centrist Reagan Republican for whom faith is important, but she can't see herself supporting a Democrat like Jones, or any Democrat, for that matter.

Abortion is "absolutely" a make-or-break issue for most of her conservative friends, she said, though she didn't want her personal views on abortion made public.

Jones, speaking last month, faces a tough Senate battle against Moore in Alabama, one of the reddest of all U.S. states. (Vasha Hunt/ via Associated Press)

"Do conservatives associate being a Democrat with being for abortion? Yes, I think they do."

At the same time, she said, "Everybody pretty much has their views on abortion, but everyone pretty much says it's not OK for a 30-year-old guy to be stalking a 14-year-old girl. Don't you think? That sounds like a universal standard, Republican or Democrat."

Would she rule out the possibility of voting for Jones?

"Golly, I'd grit my teeth," she said, adding that she's also become disenchanted with the idea of writing in a candidate. On voting day, Stickney said, she's musing about a random system to exercise her democratic right.

"I may just go to the voting booth and I might just go, 'Eenie, meenie, miney moe ...'"

About the Author

Matt Kwong


Matt Kwong is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong


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