BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA - Democrat Doug Jones won a bitter fight for a US Senate seat in deeply conservative Alabama on Tuesday (Dec 12), dealing a political blow to President Donald Trump in a tight race marked by sexual misconduct accusations against firebrand Republican candidate Roy Moore.
With 99 per cent of the vote counted, Jones had a 1.5 percentage-point lead over Moore. But the Republican refused to concede, telling supporters in Montgomery that votes were still coming in and state law would trigger a recount if the margin was within half a per cent.
Here are five reasons why the election matters.
1. Republicans' shaky Senate majority reduced to a single seat
Jones' electoral victory in Alabama will trim the Republicans' already narrow Senate majority to just one seat, endangering Trump's legislative agenda. The US President has been rolling back his predecessor Barack Obama's legacy since taking office in January.
The Republicans have already struggled to enact policies of any scale and will now face even more resistance.
For now Jones' election win will not effect the pending votes in Congress on a tax overhaul or government funding as he is expected to take office only in early January, after the election results are certified.
Republicans currently hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate and after Jones is seated that will drop to 51-49. Vice-President Mike Pence can cast tie-breaking votes.
2. A major political embarrassment for Trump
Trump, who once said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win votes, found his limit with Moore - even in a state he won by 28 percentage points just one year ago.
Combined with recent Republican losses in statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey, Moore's defeat blows a hole in Trump's aura of political invincibility.
Despite allegations that Moore made sexual advances on teenagers while in his 30s, Trump broke with much of his party and threw his support behind the former judge.
Moore has denied the allegations.
"I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore," Trump said in a robo-call to Alabama voters on Monday.
3. Turmoil ahead for Republican Party
The electoral defeat suffered by the Republicans is also a rebuke to the GOP's anti-establishment wing led by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and will deepen rifts within the Republican Party.
Bannon has thrown his weight behind Moore in what he has depicted as a battle against a Republican "establishment" out to thwart the Trump revolution.
Now the majority leader Mitch McConnell can point to Moore's defeat as another in a string of disastrous candidates pushed by the party's right-wing that have cost the GOP Senate seats in Delaware, Indiana and Missouri.
"Any illusion that Steve Bannon's brand of politics could be successful vanished when a state like Alabama became competitive," said Josh Holmes, former campaign manager and chief of staff for McConnell.
"You'd have to be absolutely blind and willfully ignorant to not realise this has been a national embarrassment."
4. A confidence boost for the Democrats
Tuesday's stunning upset makes Jones the first Democrat elected to the US Senate from Alabama in 25 years, a win which analysts say will embolden the Democratic Party as it prepares for the 2018 congressional elections.
Taking the stage to thunderous cheers, Jones, a former federal prosecutor, held up his victory as a message to Washington from voters fed up with political warfare.
For once, he said, Alabama had declined to take "the wrong fork" at a political crossroads. "We have shown the country the way that we can be unified," Jones declared, draping his election in the language of reconciliation and consensus.
"This entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign has been about the rule of law."
Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent in the 2016 presidential election, said on Twitter that Alabama voters had elected a senator who would "make them proud".
"And if Democrats can win in Alabama, we can - and must - compete everywhere," she said. "Onward!"
5. #MeToo movement a force to be reckoned
The allegations that Moore had made sexual advances on girls as young as 14 years old decades ago, had created a real contest out of what should have been an easy victory for any Republican candidate in ruby-red Alabama.
"Women really do seem to be wanting to make their collective voices heard on this issue, and they don't want to see it swept under the rug one more time," said Jessica Leeds, one of those who stepped forward last year to accuse Trump, then the GOP presidential nominee, of having committed sexual misconduct.
With Trump's election, that kind of reckoning seemed to have been pushed backward.
But the sense of grievance remained, and gained force this fall with the toppling of movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the once-revered figures in media and politics who have been taken down in his wake.
In an interview with the Washington Post conducted before the Alabama polls closed, Democratic lawmaker Pramila Jayapal had said that a win by Jones would be "a huge political victory, and it's a victory for women across the country to not have a paedophile in the US Senate."
Democrats had promised to try to link many Republican candidates in next year's elections to Moore, and use the issue of sexual misconduct to appeal to women and suburban voters.
SOURCES: NYTIMES, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, WASHINGTON POST, AFP