BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— For the first time in more than two decades, Alabamians are sending a Democrat to the Senate.
Doug Jones pulled off a stunning upset, defeating Republican nominee Roy Moore in Tuesday’s special election, 50 percent to 48 percent.
“We have come so far and the people of Alabama have spoken,” Jones said at his victory celebration here. “At the end of the day, this campaign has been about dignity and respect.”
He will serve out the remaining term of former GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, who resigned in February to become attorney general. Jones will be up for re-election again in 2020.
Watch: Inside Doug Jones’ Election Party as Race is Called
His victory also means Republicans are now reduced to a one-vote majority in the Senate.
President Donald Trump took to Twitter to congratulate Jones on a “hard fought victory.”
“The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. 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!” the president tweeted.
Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2017
Moore, meanwhile, refused to concede Tuesday night. He told his supporters, “It’s not over,” adding that the race could go to a recount.
The ballroom at the Sheraton hotel here roared when screens showed the race was being called for Jones. Music blared and Jones worked the crowd after his victory speech, with supporters hugging, waving signs and dancing.
According to exit polls, Jones was able to turn out African-American voters and win over more moderate Republicans. Black voters make up 23 percent of registered voters in Alabama, but made up 30 percent of Tuesday’s electorate, according to data from The Washington Post. Seventy-five percent of self-described moderate voters also backed Jones.
After Jones won the primary in August, Democrats thought he could be the right candidate to appeal to moderate Republicans. But they acknowledged they would need a “perfect storm” to win a Senate race in a deep-red state like Alabama.
They got one.
Just over four weeks ago, The Washington Post published a story with four women alleging that Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, inappropriately pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One of them also alleged sexual assault. Five more women have come forward since then, with two of them also alleging assault.
Moore was already unpopular among some Republicans in the state, who were turned off by his controversial rhetoric and high-profile defiance of federal orders.
He was twice ousted from the state bench — first in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse, and again last year for ordering judges not to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision.
But the allegations were the last straw for some Republicans, including a slew of GOP leaders. The state’s senior GOP senator, Richard C. Shelby, went on national television Sunday to reiterate that he could not vote for Moore.
Trump, who is popular in the state, stood by the former judge, arguing he needed a GOP senator to support his agenda. But his backing was not enough to push Moore over the finish line.
Moore’s campaign chairman, Bill Armistead, told supporters Tuesday night in Montgomery that the campaign would be pursuing a recount.
Speaking later, Moore explained that a margin of half a percentage point would trigger an automatic recount. But as of the time of his speech, the margin separating him and Jones was nearly three times that.
“We also know that God is always in control,” the former judge said. “That’s what we’ve got to do, is wait on God and wait for this process to play out.”
Shortly before midnight Eastern time, the Moore campaign blasted out a fundraising email it had sent earlier Tuesday, seizing on former President Barack Obama’s robocalls for Jones.
Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper shortly after Moore’s remarks, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the margin would have to change for an automatic recount to be triggered. He said any candidate could request a recount if they paid for it.
Examination of write-in candidates (who collectively took 2 percent of the vote) and their eligibility to serve could theoretically change the margin, but Merrill sounded skeptical that would be enough to alter the results.
Merrill said the certification process would occur on Dec. 26 but no later than Jan. 3.
Throughout the campaign, Jones sought to draw a contrast with Moore, emphasizing that he could work across party lines and would be willing to work with all of his constituents.
David Seale, 48, who said he does not align with a particular party but has recently been leaning Democratic, said he liked that Jones was willing to talk about issues and face reporters. (Moore has made few public appearances since the allegations surfaced.)
“He’s a person with credibility and dignity,” Seale said after he emerged from the Jefferson County Courthouse here Tuesday. “He has a long history for standing up for the right thing.”
One African-American woman who declined to give her name said she supported Jones because he was fair, and she was also impressed with his role in sending members of the Ku Klux Klan to jail.
Jones was a U.S. attorney in the late 1990s when he took on the case of the 1963 bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that took the lives of four young girls. He convicted two KKK members responsible for the bombing.
As a senator, Jones has promised to work across the aisle.
But he is also likely to be a key vote for Democrats in the Senate. He supports fixing the 2010 health care law, and said he opposes cutting taxes for the wealthy at the expense of lower-income families.
Jones said his victory means Alabamians want to send someone to the Senate who can get things done. He referenced funding the soon-to-expire Children’s Health Insurance Program in his victory speech, which drew loud cheers from the crowd.
Rep. Terri A. Sewell, the lone Democrat in the Alabama delegation, stood onstage with Jones, his family and campaign aides Tuesday night. She had campaigned with the senator-elect throughout the race.
Sewell interjected when Jones during his speech when he referenced going to Washington, repeating a phrase she had used all week.
“Help is on the way!” she said.
Simone Pathé contributed to this report.