BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The two candidates for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama made their final push Monday, with Republican Roy Moore casting himself as the victim of unjust allegations and Democrat Doug Jones declaring the race a referendum on "who we are and what we're going to tell our daughters."
Moore's campaign has been buffeted by accusations of sexual misconduct. The allegations have given Jones hope of becoming the state's first Democratic senator in two decades.
On the eve of today's election, Moore called in to a conservative talk radio show in Alabama to lament the tone of the campaign and portray himself as the victim of the sexual-misconduct allegations.
"We've seen things happen in this campaign that I can't believe to this day," said Moore, who has denied all wrongdoing in contacts with the women and who said he behaved inappropriately when they were in their teens and he was a local prosecutor in his 30s. One said he initiated sexual contact when she was 14.
"It's just been hard, a hard campaign," said Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who was twice removed from that post for violating judicial ethics.
Alabama has been a solidly Republican state for years, and Moore said he is much more in tune with the issues that matter to voters -- and to the president.
Speaking Monday in Montgomery, Jones acknowledged that his views don't completely align with those of many of his state's residents.
"Look, I'm not going to be the senator that everybody in the state can agree with 100 percent of the time," he said. "They'll know I'm somebody that will sit down with them. I will learn from them. ... I will try to be the public servant I think a U.S. senator ought to be."
The two candidates have taken very different approaches to campaigning, with Jones holding events regularly and Moore popping up only occasionally in small churches, rallies or in interviews with friendly media.
Moore held a rally Monday night in Midland City in southeastern Alabama, with appearances by former White House strategist Steve Bannon and Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. Bannon, referring to the agenda of President Donald Trump, called the special election an "up-or-down vote between the Trump miracle and the nullification project."
"This is greater than Judge Moore and even greater than the people of Alabama," Bannon said.
About 50 protesters gathered outside the rally, chanting, "Country over party, vote Doug Jones" and "Don't let a pedophile in office."
Moore remained defiant in the face of the allegations, telling voters, "If you don't believe in my character, don't vote for me."
In a morning stop at a diner in Birmingham, Jones accused Moore of disappearing during the campaign's closing days and claimed, without providing evidence, that the Republican wasn't even in Alabama over the weekend.
"We're making sure our message is getting across while Roy Moore hides behind whoever he's hiding behind," Jones said.
Moore has made only a few public appearances since the allegations first surfaced.
Moore has spent two decades advocating conservative Christian positions. Jones is a former federal prosecutor best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen responsible for killing four black girls in a 1963 church bombing.
The winner will take the seat held previously by Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and currently occupied by former state Attorney General Luther Strange. Republicans control the Senate with 52 seats.
The race has attracted more than $41 million in spending and has drawn prominent names from both parties into the fray. Trump said in a robocall to Alabama voters that he badly needs Moore's vote in the U.S. Senate. Former President Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, recorded calls for Jones.
Reports of the robocalls from Obama and Biden created some awkwardness for Jones, who has tried to project distance from the national party as he closes out the campaign. Although his campaign confirmed the calls, the candidate said he was not aware of them.
"I know that there have been a lot of robocalls that have been recorded. I don't know what's being used. That is just not something I'm doing," Jones said Monday.
Giles Perkins, chairman of the Jones campaign, said approximately 30 different calls have gone out to voters and that "most of them are local."
Jones has tried to thread a difficult needle, portraying himself as an independent figure who is unbeholden to party leaders in an attempt to win over Republicans. At the same time, he has relied on marquee national names to help boost Democratic turnout.
Jones campaigned Sunday with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick also stumped for Jones.
Moore, on the other hand, has seen his support from the party waver in the wake of the allegations. Trump campaigned for Moore over the weekend, but from a distance. After touting him at a Friday evening rally just across the border in Florida, he recorded the phone call for him Saturday.
Senate Republican leaders withdrew their support of Moore because of the allegations. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he expects Moore will face an immediate investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee if he is elected.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., who voted for a write-in candidate, said Sunday that he found Moore's accusers to be "believable" and that Moore would not represent the state well.
"I think Alabama deserves better," Shelby said on CNN's State of the Union.
A Republican National Committee member from Nebraska, Joyce Simmons, announced that she has resigned her post in protest of the committee's support for Moore.
"I strongly disagree with the recent RNC financial support directed to the Alabama Republican Party for use in the Roy Moore race," Simmons said in an email to party leaders, who were first informed Friday of her decision. "There is much I could say about this situation, but I will defer to this weekend's comments by Senator Shelby."
Simmons said she wishes she could have continued her service "to the national Republican Party that I used to know well."
The RNC had pulled support from Moore after the allegations surfaced last month. But the organization re-entered the race once Trump endorsed Moore, citing the need for a Republican in the seat.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said he expects only about 25 percent of eligible voters to cast a ballot in the special election, making the race difficult to predict. Democrats don't hold a single statewide office in Alabama, and both houses of the Legislature are controlled by the GOP.
"I'm hearing everything," said Brian Walsh, president of America First Action, an outside group that has spent more than $1.1 million on mail, television and digital ads to support Moore. "Nobody knows what the hell is going on right now."
Lillian Woolf, 18, a University of Alabama freshman, said she was disgusted that some people would vote for Moore despite the allegations by multiple women.
"It creeps me out," she said. "It shocks me just how much people are willing to ignore a person's past just because of their political stance."
Former professional basketball star Charles Barkley, speaking at a Jones rally Monday night, urged voters not to embarrass his home state by electing Moore. "I love Alabama, but at some point we've got to draw a line in the sand and say, 'We're not a bunch of damn idiots,'" said Barkley, an Alabama native.
But Joseph Chesnut, 20, a junior at the University of Alabama, said he will be voting for Moore, who "holds more Republican values ... just his Christianity standpoint and his Second Amendment standpoint and just, you know, trying to fight the establishment up there."
Information for this article was contributed by Jay Reeves, Kim Chandler, Bill Barrow and Emily Wagster Pettus of The Associated Press; and by Sean Sullivan, Michael Scherer, Philip Rucker and Scott Clement of The Washington Post.
A Section on 12/12/2017
Print Headline: Senate contest enters final Alabama hours