Republicans in Alabama and nationally have given up on mounting a write-in challenger to Senate candidate Roy Moore, having concluded that the idea is no longer feasible—if it ever was in the first place.
Their resignation means both that the party is stuck with Moore on the ballot and that the only chance to ensure he doesn’t end up in the Senate is to attempt to expel him once he arrives, assuming he wins.
“It wasn’t viable two weeks ago when this was first talked about, and it’s even less viable today,” an Alabama Republican operative close to the race told The Daily Beast. “I don’t think there’s anyone that can run a viable write-in campaign unless it’s Jesus Christ or Nick Saban.”
The failure of a write-in campaign to materialize marks a setback for national GOP leaders, who had proposed the idea as a longshot attempt to unpend Moore’s campaign. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pushed the concept last week, saying that he was searching for someone who could “mount a write-in campaign successfully.”
But Moore remained defiant in the midst of sexual misconduct allegations from nine women, and used McConnell’s attempts to find a write-in as a way to gin up support in-state.
“I believe with all of my heart that Mitch McConnell and the establishment are in cahoots with the Democrats to stop this campaign,” Moore said on Sunday. “They have taken a calculated risk for two years with a Democrat and try to elect another Republican in two years. And they want me out.”
Republicans always recognized that the risk of pushing for a write-in candidate was high, with a strong likelihood that he or she would take enough votes from Moore that the Democrat in the race, Doug Jones, would prevail. They pushed it anyway with the hope that Moore would buckle under heavy pressure from within his own party to drop out.
But while many national Republicans abandoned him, the most prominent one did not. President Donald Trump weighed in on the sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)—but he stayed silent about Moore. And when White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated on Monday that the decision rests with Alabamians, the president effectively took any small amount of momentum out of the push to elevate a write-in candidate.
“The factor that could have made a difference in Alabama is leadership from the president,” a Senate Republican aide, granted anonymity to speak candidly, told The Daily Beast. “As the leader of our party, if the president had urged Moore to step aside and encouraged Alabamians to coalesce around an alternative we would have seen momentum shift that way. But now that we are short on time and witnessing a wide variety of mixed messages from the White House, it’s hard to imagine an alternative to Moore appearing and being competitive.”
Even had Trump weighed in more heavily, it’s unclear if a write-in campaign would have worked. Local Republicans never abandoned Moore. In fact, many reaffirmed their support for his candidacy in the aftermath of the allegations surfacing.
The Alabama Republican party formally said it was standing by Moore, while Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she is still voting for Moore despite believing his accusers. Ivey also said she wasn’t willing to move the election date (Dec. 12) to allow for a write-in candidate to build a campaign apparatus, something Republicans in Washington pinned their hopes on at the outset.
“It appears to me as an outside observer that the Alabama governor, who caused this mess in the first place by rescheduling this election, decided to take all options off the table. So now it’s wait and see what happens,” Scott Jennings, a prominent Kentucky Republican close to McConnell, told The Daily Beast. “But either way the Republican party has already lost this race. Either it will be saddled with a brand anvil who won’t reliably support the president’s agenda, or will lose the seat to a Democrat.”
Alabama Republicans acknowledge that if any write-in effort was to be successful, it would have had to come together immediately after the allegations against Moore surfaced nearly two weeks ago. One possible candidate, Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL)—the incumbent who was appointed to the seat earlier this year once Jeff Sessions became attorney general—has maintained a low profile despite having been urged to consider a write-in bid. Another, Sessions, is apparently not interested in leaving his current perch.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told The Daily Beast last week that he would write in a different Republican candidate. But even he was not optimistic that a write-in bid could topple Moore without simultaneously guaranteeing that Jones becomes Alabama’s next senator.
“You’ve got to have [a write-in candidate]. And I don’t see any movement. You’ve got 4 weeks to go,” Shelby said.
Should Moore win the election, the Senate would have no choice but to seat him. But the chamber could then vote to expel him altogether—something first suggested by Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), a member of GOP leadership and the chairman of the NRSC. In order to be successful, such an effort would require two-thirds of the Senate. Ivey would then appoint a different Republican to occupy the seat temporarily.
—with additional reporting by Sam Stein