Less Is Moore

Democrats Waffle on Going All in to Defeat Gay-Basher Roy Moore

The Christian fundamentalist Republican candidate gave the opposition party a huge opening. But they aren’t yet certain that they’re going to take it.

Democrats had reason to smile when they woke up on Wednesday morning to discover that Roy Moore, the controversial former Republican judge, had won his Senate primary in Alabama the night before.

But as the day progressed it became clear that the national Democratic apparatus wasn’t yet ready to go all in on the general election, worried both that expectations were exceeding realities and that their active presence in the race might hurt more than it helps.

A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said only that the group is closely monitoring the race and providing support if necessary to the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones. The spokesman also said that Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the DSCC, had made a personal contribution to the Jones campaign.

Democratic super PACs, meanwhile, are evaluating their options when it comes to the Alabama general election, which isn’t until December. Before making any investments in the race, they first want to assess how vulnerable Moore is in the state. The former chief justice has emerged from a primary during which virtually every establishment Republican institution was against him. Democratic operatives said on Wednesday that they’re looking to see if some GOP voters keep their distance from Moore before deciding to come to Jones’ aid.

It is a tricky proposition for the party. At a time when there are few real opportunities for Democrats to pick up Senate seats in next year’s midterm elections, the ascendance of Moore gives them a slim but real opportunity.

But Alabama has long been a challenging state for Democrats to compete in. Trump defeated Clinton in the state by nearly 30 points last year and remains immensely popular there. Eight of the nine members of the Alabama congressional delegation are Republicans, and the state hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1986, when Sen. Richard Shelby—currently a Republican—was first elected as a Democrat before switching parties in 1994.

Jones has the type of resume that could work even if having a Democratic label will hurt. He is a former U.S. attorney who rose to fame in the state for prosecuting members of the Ku Klux Klan. He’s often described as independent-minded and not hyper-partisan. And those Democrats who have jumped in to offer their support have political star power that could resonate in the state. Jones has been endorsed by civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and Vice President Joe Biden, who is speaking at a rally on behalf of Jones next week.

The rest of the Democratic party seems committed to the race, but from a comfortable distance.

The Democratic National Committee, which has been beleaguered by fundraising problems throughout the year, told The Daily Beast that it had provided the Jones campaign with its Alabama voter file data, in addition to sending staff down early in the race. Most recently, the DNC sent out two fundraising emails on Jones’ behalf.

Fundraising solicitations are far short of actual investments—in, say, the Alabama State Democratic Party. But Jones will surely take the help. His principal campaign committee had less than $100,000 on hand by the end of July. A spokesman for Jones told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that the campaign has raised more than $1 million so far, and that its fundraising has “increased dramatically” over the past few days, fueled in part by increased national attention on the race.

Progressive groups have been intrigued by the race. But they too are not entirely sure how involved they should get. MoveOn endorsed Jones last week and has sent fundraising emails on his behalf. But Daily Kos, the liberal website with a powerful fundraising arm, is still weighing whether to do the same, the site’s political editor told The Daily Beast.

Part of the issue is that it’s not clear whether Jones would benefit from the help. Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who is advising Jones, said that hopes that his candidate retains the local-man image, describing Jones as “through and through Alabama.” But Trippi’s presence on the campaign underscores the tricky path ahead: he is a familiar cable news presence often associated with national campaigns instead of down-south contests.

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In an interview with The Daily Beast, Trippi didn’t say explicitly that Moore was an easier opponent than the man he’d beaten in the primary, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL). But he argued that the former judge provides an easy character contrast with the Democrat and noted that “quite a few Republican donors were calling saying they were with Doug Jones.”

“He’s somebody who’s been removed from office twice,” Trippi said referring to Moore’s defiance of an order to remove a Ten Commandments statue and his refusal to adhere to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling. “Roy Moore is quite a divisive figure with his own agenda. And to a large extent, people question whether he’s going to embarrass them again.”

Democrats might also be able to take advantage of the lack of enthusiasm among national Republicans for Moore’s candidacy. On Wednesday, many Senate Republicans pretended to have barely heard of their likely future colleague.

“I respect the verdict of the voters,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told The Daily Beast when asked if he would support Moore’s candidacy. When a reporter mentioned that Moore has made controversial statements in the past on a host of issues, McCain joked: “He has? He has?”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), when asked about Moore’s victory, said with a wink and a laugh: “We’re talking about tax reform. Get with the program!”

Others brushed off questions about Moore’s hardline positions on issues ranging from homosexuality to religious freedom. One senator compared questions about support for Moore to those about whether elected Republicans would get behind Trump when he won the Republican presidential nomination last year.

“He’s our Republican nominee—didn’t we just go through that last year? He’s going to have my full support,” Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) said.

Not even Shelby, Moore’s Alabama counterpart who backed Strange, would commit to campaigning for Moore. The Senator would only say on Wednesday that he would “support the Republican candidate.”