Democrat's upset win in Alabama hits Trump hard

Mr Doug Jones and his wife Louise acknowledging supporters at an election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday. His Republican rival Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, signalled that he wanted a recount. If none is ordere
Mr Doug Jones and his wife Louise acknowledging supporters at an election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, on Tuesday. His Republican rival Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct, signalled that he wanted a recount. If none is ordered, Mr Jones is expected to take office next month, becoming the first Alabama Democrat to enter the US Senate in a quarter-century.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Loss cuts Republicans' Senate majority, reducing President's margin for manoeuvre

MONTGOMERY (Alabama) • Democrat Doug Jones scored a stunning upset victory in an intense US Senate race in conservative Alabama, dealing a blow to President Donald Trump, whose chosen candidate failed to overcome damaging accusations of sexual misconduct.

The Democratic win, a political earthquake in the most contentious US election this year and in one of the reddest of Deep South US states, is a stinging blow to the President, who gave his full endorsement to Republican Roy Moore after initial hesitations, despite the serious allegations against him.

With 100 per cent of Alabama precincts reporting, Mr Jones won 49.9 per cent of the vote compared with Mr Moore's 48.4 per cent, a margin of nearly 21,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast, according to figures posted by US media.

Mr Jones, 63, is a former federal prosecutor.

The result puts an Alabama Democrat in the US Senate for the first time in a quarter-century.

"I am truly, truly overwhelmed," Mr Jones told ecstatic supporters at his election party in Birmingham, where aides and volunteers cheered and hugged one another. "We have shown the country the way that we can be unified."

Alabama, which Mr Trump won last year by 28 points, has been at a "crossroads" before, and sometimes did not take the correct path forward, Mr Jones said, but on Tuesday, "you took the right road".

Mr Trump spoke up on Twitter to congratulate Mr Jones on his "hard-fought victory".

"A win is a win," Mr Trump said. "The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!"

But Mr Moore, 70, refused to concede, declaring: "When the vote is this close, it is not over."

Mr Moore signalled he wanted a recount, but Alabama law provides for an automatic recount only if the margin is within half a per cent. The current margin stands at 1.5 per cent.

Alabama officials will have between Dec 26 and Jan 3 to certify the vote. If no recount is ordered, Mr Jones is expected to be seated in the US Senate early next month.

The loss suffered by Mr Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, shrinks the Republicans' Senate majority to 51 in the 100-seat chamber, and also reduces Mr Trump's margin for manoeuvre to the bare minimum.

Mr Jones' win led to an avalanche of Democratic congratulations.

  • Seizing the chance to fulfil a dream

  • BIRMINGHAM (Alabama) • Running for the Senate was always something Mr Doug Jones wanted to do.

    "It just all seemed like the right time and the right place and the right moment in my life to do it," he said in a late-October interview with The Washington Post.

    On Tuesday, as it turned out, he was in the right place at the right time - a candidate who was lifted to victory in large measure by a series of twists and turns on the Republican side, including the allegations that Mr Roy Moore made unwanted sexual advances to teenage girls as young as 14 when he was in his 30s.

    Mr Jones, a first-time candidate for office who overcame the strong rightward tilt of his state, will now become perhaps the most unexpected member of the Senate in recent history.

    It remains unclear where the 63-year-old will fit in a polarised legislative body that could put him in an awkward middle ground between an increasingly vocal bloc of rising liberal Democratic stars and scores of conservative Republicans.

    Mr Jones was born and raised in a Birmingham suburb and stayed in Alabama for college and law school.

    On the campaign trail, he liked to mention the late Howell Heflin, Alabama's last Democratic senator and his former boss. Mr Jones worked as staff counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee for Mr Heflin, according to the biography on his campaign website.

    Before his Senate bid, Mr Jones was best known for prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members responsible for a 1963 church bombing in Birmingham that killed four African-American girls.

    Mr Jones told that story often as a candidate. It boosted his credibility among the state's many African-American voters, whose support was crucial to his win.

    It is an open question what kind of senator Mr Jones will be. He often dodged questions about President Donald Trump, cognizant that the President was well liked among the many crossover Republicans he knew he had to win over. He has also dodged questions about his own party's leaders, who are political villains in many parts of this ruby red state.

    On abortion, Mr Jones' views are in line with those of many Democratic leaders. He has voiced support for current laws, not a change some conservatives have embraced, to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

    In addition to his win over Mr Moore, Mr Jones was celebrating a milestone with his wife on Tuesday - their 25th anniversary. "It's been a quarter of a century, and I wouldn't be where I am today without my best friend, partner and running mate on this journey," he wrote on Twitter.

    WASHINGTON POST

"Tonight, Alabama voters elected a senator who'll make them proud," tweeted Mrs Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump's defeated presidential rival. "And if Democrats can win in Alabama, we can - and must - compete everywhere."

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) said Mr Moore's loss in the conservative heartland sends a "loud and clear" message to Mr Trump and his Republicans.

"You can't call yourself the party of family values as long as you're willing to accept vile men like Roy Moore as members," DNC chairman Tom Perez said.

The race was seen as a harbinger of whether the Republican Party can retain its slim Senate majority next year.

Mr Moore had created a major headache for the Republicans. The party's leaders and members of Congress called on him to step down after the allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced, to no avail.

If he had won, the Republican brand risked being sullied by association with him, particularly at a time of national upheaval over sexual harassment and the right of victims to be heard.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2017, with the headline 'Democrat's upset win in Alabama hits Trump hard'. Print Edition | Subscribe