In a stunning upset, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in the controversial race to fill the Alabama Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. With 100 percent of the vote tallied, Jones led Moore by nearly 21,000 votes, a margin of 1.5 percentage points. With Jones in the Senate, the Republicans’ majority will narrow to 51-49, endangering Trump’s agenda and possibly ushering in a Democratic wave in next year’s congressional elections. Roy Moore has so far refused to concede the race, and on Tuesday night called for a recount. We speak with Pema Levy, political reporter for Mother Jones who has covered voter turnout and suppression in the tight race.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show in Alabama, where in a stunning upset Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in the controversial race to fill the Alabama Senate seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. With 100 percent of the vote tallied, Jones led Moore by nearly 21,000 votes, a margin of one-and-a-half percentage points. With Jones in the Senate, the Republicans’ majority will narrow to 51-49, endangering Trump’s agenda and possibly ushering in a Democratic wave in next year’s congressional elections. Jones addressed supporters in a victory speech Tuesday night.
SEN.-ELECT DOUG JONES: I am truly overwhelmed. I am truly, truly overwhelmed. But you know, folks—and you have all heard me say this at one point or another in this campaign—I have always believed that the people of Alabama had more in common than to divide us. We have shown, not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way that we can be unified. … I’ve said it before: Alabama has been at a crossroads. We have been at crossroads in the past. And unfortunately, we have usually taken the wrong fork. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you took the right road.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Doug Jones’ victory marks the first time in 25 years that a Democrat has won a U.S. Senate race in Alabama. Tuesday’s special election was highly controversial, pitting Doug Jones against Roy Moore, an accused pedophile with a long history of racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia. Roy Moore has so far refused to concede the race, and, on Tuesday night, called for a recount. But President Donald Trump, who had repeatedly endorsed Moore, did acknowledge his defeat, tweeting, quote, “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!” unquote.
AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday’s vote was highly divided by race and gender, with African-American voters, particularly women, largely responsible for defeating Roy Moore. Overall, 96 percent of African-American voters voted for Doug Jones, with a staggering 98 percent of all black women voting for Jones. In contrast, nearly 70 percent of white voters voted for Roy Moore. A full 63 percent of white women voted for Moore, despite Moore being accused by multiple women of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers, one as young as 14. Democratic strategist Symone Sanders, who served as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ press secretary during his presidential campaign, said, quote, “Doug Jones would not have won today without the turnout we saw from African-American voters. … Black women have been absolutely clear in their support for Democratic policies and Democratic candidates. It’s high time for Democrats to invest in that effort,” unquote.
This is Roy Moore speaking Tuesday night, telling supporters in Montgomery that votes were still coming in, and state law would trigger a recount if the margin was within half a percent.
ROY MOORE: Realize when the vote is this close, it is not over. And we’ve still got to go by the rules about this recount provision. And the secretary of state has explained it to us, and we’re expecting that the press will go up there and talk to them to find out what the situation is. But we also know that God is always in control. You know, part of the thing—part of the problem with this campaign is we’ve been painted in an unfavorable and unfaithful light. We’ve been put in a hole, if you will. And it reminds me of a passage in Psalm 40: “I waited patiently for the Lord.” … And that’s what we’ve got to do, is wait on God and let this process play out.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Alabama Secretary State John Merrill says the votes from Tuesday’s election will be certified between December 26 and January 3rd. Doug Jones’ victory means the Republicans’ majority in the Senate will narrow to 51 to 49.
For more, we’re joined by Pema Levy, political reporter for Mother Jones who has been following voter turnout and voter suppression in the race closely. Her latest article is headlined “Doug Jones Rides a Perfect GOP Storm to the Senate.”
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Pema. Start off with your response to what happened yesterday and the staggering vote of African Americans, particularly African-American women.
PEMA LEVY: Yeah, I mean, what happened last night is a really big deal. I think it shocked the entire country when Doug Jones pulled this off. And, absolutely, it was—could not have been done without the support of African-American voters. I think there was a lot of worry leading up to yesterday that those voters would not turn out. Even leaders in the African-American community that I spoke with were worried that they would not be there. But I think what we’re seeing is that this is a wave, and, you know, African-American voters are part of that wave. And they’re, for Democrats, a critical part of that wave, and, like you said, women especially. You know, women vote more than men, across the board. And so, absolutely, African-American women are going to be an absolutely important factor when it comes to Democratic victories, especially close ones like we had last night in Alabama.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Pema, could you talk about the impact also of the write-in vote? Because, obviously, this represented those Republicans who, despite Donald Trump’s entreaties, could not get themselves to vote for Roy Moore.
PEMA LEVY: Yeah, I think the write-in vote is pretty interesting. Right now it looks like the right-in vote is slightly larger than the margin between Jones and Moore. Ultimately, I’m not sure that it will make the difference, because I think that it just so happens that a lot of people, when they write in a name, they actually write in a candidate. So I think a certain number of those write-in votes will actually be votes for Doug Jones or Roy Moore. I think the bigger impact here was folks that probably didn’t want to vote for Moore, and instead of writing someone in, they just stayed home. I think what really killed Moore in this election is that his base just did not turn out the way that the Democratic base turned out for Jones.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to another clip of Doug Jones’ victory speech Tuesday night after this surprise upset against Roy Moore.
SEN.-ELECT DOUG JONES: As Dr. King liked to quote, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Tonight—tonight, ladies and gentlemen—tonight—tonight, in this time, in this place, you helped bend that moral arc a little closer to that justice. And you did it. That moral arc, not only was it bent more, not only was its aim truer, but you sent it right through the heart of the great state of Alabama in doing so.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Doug Jones significantly quoting Dr. Martin Luther King. Explain Doug Jones’ history as a prosecutor prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members who were involved with the bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Of course, the prosecution happened much later than that.
PEMA LEVY: Yes, it did. You know, when that bomb went off in 1963, the situation in Birmingham was that the police were essentially in cahoots with the KKK. And, you know, it was impossible to put on a trial and bring the bombers to justice. And so they were not tried for a long time. One of them was put away in the ’70s, when Alabama elected a progressive attorney general. But that person could not get the support of the FBI to go further. And so it was not until the late ’90s, when Doug Jones was a federal prosecutor in Birmingham, that they were able to put this together.
And Jones—you know, I’ve talked to people who worked with him on this case, who were in his office, and they said, you know, this was a meticulous, dogged, three-year process. Jones did an incredible amount of work. It was not guaranteed. You know, you have a cold case. It’s 40 years old. That is a remarkable thing to be able to pull off. And Jones, you know, by all accounts, was incredibly dedicated to bringing these people to justice and for turning a page in Alabama history.
And so you, I think, see that again last night in his speech, the idea that the Alabama that he knows and loves is not the one that we think of when we read about the 1960s and we hear about the bombings. And he wants to sort of turn that page. And I think that he feels like he did that again last night. Of course, we are, you know, 13,000 votes away from Roy Moore going to the U.S. Senate, so this was a close election. On the other hand, Alabama came very close to sending Moore to Washington, but they didn’t. And I think that Jones is right to say that this is a remarkable moment for his state.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Pema Levy, what do you think this will mean now in the Senate itself? Obviously, it’s one less Republican. It’s now a 51-to-49 margin in the Senate. How will this have an impact on the Republican Party and on Donald Trump’s agenda in Washington?
PEMA LEVY: Yeah, I think it will have an effect on both, and I think that they’re connected. I think, you know, on the one hand, like you just said, Republicans now have 51 votes. They have the vice president to break a tie. But they still—that means they need even more support from the more moderate folks, like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. It means, you know, that they have to—they basically are not guaranteed. They’ve already struggled to pass tax reform. They couldn’t pass their Obamacare repeal. It’s going to be even harder for them.
And I think the second thing is, when Democrats—or, sorry, when Republicans see what just happened in Alabama, they’re going to be afraid that it can happen to them, right? If a Republican can lose in Alabama—you know, we have next year’s midterms coming up—a Republican could lose almost anywhere now. And so, I think the fear is, “Well, should I go along with this, whatever the priorities that Republicans want, because it’s not popular, it’s not working. I’m afraid I might lose.” And so I think that, you know, the added fear of what—from what happened last night could also have an impact on policy in Washington.
AMY GOODMAN: After his victory over Roy Moore, Doug Jones emphasized the diversity of his supporters in Alabama, during his victory speech on Tuesday night.
SEN.-ELECT DOUG JONES: You know, I keep hearing about the different communities in this state. The African-American community, thank you! My friends—my friends in the Latino community, thank you! To all my Jewish friends, happy Hanukkah! We have—we have built this everywhere we have gone. We have had that same energy. We’ve had that same excitement. At the end of the day, this entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign—this campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency, and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which ZIP code you live in, is going to get a fair shake in life.
AMY GOODMAN: A very different speech than Roy Moore’s wife gave the night before, talking about how they have black friends and that they are not anti-Semitic because one of Roy Moore’s lawyers is a Jew. But the significance of this for Donald Trump, of this huge defeat, Donald Trump really pulling out all the stops to endorse Roy Moore? When you look at what this means for him, particularly around the issue of women and all of the allegations of sexual assault, misconduct, harassment against President Trump, since Roy Moore brought this issue to the fore, an accused pedophile himself, but Donald Trump not relenting, what this actually means, and even yesterday, in the midst of this special election, tweeting out this sexist comment against Senator Gillibrand?
PEMA LEVY: You can absolutely look at this election last night through the lens of the “Me Too” movement and say that they had a huge victory. And I think a lot of people were really worried, going into this Senate race, that Alabama would elect Roy Moore and that the message it would send to women and to victims was “It doesn’t matter if you come forward. Powerful men will get away with it. They’ll still get elected. They’ll still be in office,” and, you know, because that’s the message that was sent when Donald Trump won the presidency.
But I think that, you know, this has been an important message for victims to come forward. And if anything, it adds more momentum to this movement. And that is, of course, bad news for Donald Trump, who is the most high-profile person in this movement, who’s someone who has admitted to sexual assault on tape and now has a target on his back. So I think that, you know, this is a really big deal from that perspective. It’s an important moment for women’s rights and for sexual harassment. And I think that this election last night ensured that women would, hopefully, feel safe still coming forward and feel like they are being heard.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about the mainstream Republican leadership, many of whom obviously were fearful of Moore being elected, because they would see him as an albatross around their neck for the rest of—going into the 2018 election. There’s some speculation that many of them are glad he was defeated.
PEMA LEVY: Yeah, I think that I would not be surprised if that were the case, either. I think, you know, Cory Gardner, the head of the Senate campaign arm, said that they would never endorse Roy Moore, and stayed steadfastly against him. And I think he was certainly not looking forward to a 2018 in which all of the senators up for re-election had to, you know, distance themselves from Roy Moore, but not too much. It was just going to be this awkward, horrible dance that they were all going to have to go through. They would have to answer for his comments, you know, constantly. And I think that—yeah, I think there’s probably a sigh of relief going on here for a lot of people. You know, certainly it makes it harder for their priorities. Certainly it sends a really bad message for them about, you know, a wave coming against them in 2018. But at the same time, on a day-to-day basis, I think their lives just got easier.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it is astounding that 63 percent of white women voters voted for Roy Moore. Tarana Burke, the founder of the “Me Too” movement, quoted—this is part of her tweet: “I hope the 9 women who accused Roy Moore feel some vindication tonight. The world heard you. We believed you. #metoo.” But 63 percent of white women voters in Alabama did vote for Roy Moore, but this astounding 98 percent of black women voters voting for Doug Jones. And also what this means as a message to the Democratic leadership, when it comes to where they’re going to put their resources around the country in get-out-the-vote campaigns? It’s been something that’s divided the DNC for quite some time, those who are pushing for on-the-ground operations to reach the grassroots, saying that they’re not doing enough to do that. But this certainly is a vindication of that approach, Pema.
PEMA LEVY: Yes, absolutely. I think that, you know, particularly in the South, but really all over the country, you see Democratic candidates, you know, when they run in Republican territory, they really focus on peeling off those conservative voters that they think they can bring over to support them. And they do that at the cost of trying to really fire up the base and really reaching out to the African-American community, saying, you know, not just “I’m not the other guy,” but “Here’s what I’m going to do for you.” And I think that, you know, African-American voters don’t want to be taken for granted. They want to know that they’re—they want you to know that they’re a critical part of their base, and therefore you need to do things that they need. You know, for them, education is a really big deal. Healthcare is a really big deal. You know, criminal justice is a very big deal.
And so, I do absolutely think that Democrats would benefit from talking more directly to those constituencies about those issues and firing them up, because, as Doug Jones said, I mean, absolutely, the Democratic Party is a party of coalitions. It’s a party of lots of different groups of people coming together. The Republican Party is much more monolithic. And that’s by design. They have decided to double down on white voters. And it has worked for them. They, as you said, have a majority of white voters. They had 63 percent of white women last night. And so, you know, absolutely, Democrats, I think, at some point, will probably realize that it’s in their best interest to actually focus on the voters they have, rather than spend all their resources on the voters that they might want.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, there was a huge turnout last night—not huge for other countries in the world. We’re talking around 40 percent. But it equaled or surpassed the presidential election years, even with President Obama. Quite amazing. Pema Levy, we want to thank you for being with us, political reporter for Mother Jones. Her latest article is headlined “Doug Jones Rides a Perfect GOP Storm to the Senate.”
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