SELMA, Alabama—It’s the most important national political race left in the calendar year.
A nail-biter that could very well impact every major piece of legislation throughout the remainder of President Donald Trump’s first term, the Alabama Senate race has caught the attention of the entire country.
Still, though, neither political party’s apparatus seems comfortable going all in for Republican Roy Moore or Democrat Doug Jones—but for entirely different reasons.
As the polling between Moore and Jones has grown tighter, the race has morphed into a mad rush to turn out each party’s core voters. If Jones wins, it will be because black voters showed up to the polls close to the rate that they did for Barack Obama. For that reason, Jones has brushed off criticisms that the appearance of national Democrats in Alabama could turn off conservative-leaning voters that might otherwise be on the fence between him and Moore for the Dec. 12 contest.
“The people that are going to be coming here today have issues that we have in common with the people of Alabama,” Jones told The Daily Beast outside the Brown Chapel AME Church here. “I don’t think you can say that about some of the people that are coming in on the other side.”
On Monday night—the eve of the election—Moore is holding a “Drain the Swamp Rally” in Midland City that will feature Breitbart chairman and former top White House adviser Stephen Bannon and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a controversial lawmaker who has long been a favorite of the far-right.
After Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL)—Trump’s preferred candidate—lost to Moore in the primary, the president largely strayed away from commenting further on the race. But in recent days Trump has explicitly backed Moore and urged Alabamians to vote for the controversial former state Supreme Court judge.
Two sources who have spoken with Trump told The Daily Beast that the president recently floated the idea of stumping for Moore in Alabama, as he did for Strange, Moore’s primary GOP opponent, in September. But he did not push particularly hard for it, and ended up holding a campaign-style rally in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday night—just minutes from the border with Alabama. So instead of traveling to a state where he enjoys overwhelming support, the president only recorded a robocall for Moore.
Democratic party leaders have long worried about the optics of pouring millions of out-of-state cash into a race where the political establishment is so regularly excoriated. The only major Democratic heavyweight to travel to Alabama on Jones’ behalf was former Vice President Joe Biden—but that was more than two months ago. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has remained cautious citing the fact that Alabama has, for decades, been tough terrain for Democrats to navigate. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the DSCC chairman, has done little more than donate to Jones’ campaign.
And yet, in the final days of the contest, the top out-of-state surrogates include Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), former Massachusetts Gov.-turned private equity executive Deval Patrick, Bannon and Gohmert.
Patrick appeared alongside Jones after a meeting with community members at the Brown Chapel AME Church here. The church played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and was the starting point for the Selma-to-Montgomery marches that resulted in the “Bloody Sunday” conflict on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.
Booker, a rising star in Democratic politics, delivered what sounded like a 2020 presidential campaign stump speech at a Jones rally later in Montgomery. Jones was joined by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), the only Democrat in the Alabama congressional delegation, both in Montgomery and in Selma. Booker was given celebrity treatment, taking selfies with enthusiastic attendees—potentially undercutting the Democratic common wisdom that sending down south a big name with establishment ties could backfire.
The Jones campaign brought African-American out-of-state Democrats like Patrick and Booker into Alabama for one reason: to turn out black voters, which will be key to a Jones victory. In Selma alone, entire streets were lined with “Doug Jones for Senate” yard signs.
Back in Washington, national Republicans aren’t nearly as eager to step foot as close to Alabama as Trump did on Friday, and GOP senators are treading lightly on the issue as they grapple with the growing possibility that Moore will soon join their ranks.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee—the campaign arm of Senate Republicans—pulled all resources from the race after the Washington Post first revealed allegations of sexual misconduct, including child molestation, against Moore. The NRSC’s chairman, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), has stood by the decision and has argued that the Senate should vote to expel Moore if he is elected. Moore is expected to face a Senate Ethics Committee investigation if Alabamians send him to Washington.
The Republican National Committee also pulled out of the race following the allegations, but last week it jumped back in with a modest sum after Trump formally endorsed Moore. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remains a reviled figure among Alabama’s Republicans and pro-Trump conservatives, and his opposition to Moore—stemming back to the primary when he backed Strange, the incumbent—only fuels the anti-establishment resentment that motivates Moore’s voters.
It’s not just the Republican party apparatus staying out of the limelight. Moore himself has barely appeared in public since the allegations first came to light. The weekend before the election, neither Moore nor his campaign are holding a single public event. Monday’s rally in Midland City alongside Bannon and Gohmert will be one of just two public events Moore will hold in the last week of the campaign. But there’s a strategy behind it.
“Recent poll numbers have shown Judge Moore leading and they may be concentrating their efforts on getting out their voters to the polls as opposed to public campaign events to try to attract new voters,” former Alabama State Rep. Paul DeMarco (R) told The Daily Beast. “Trump’s late push for Moore will probably swing him more voters than any campaign rally he could hold himself.”