MOBILE, Ala. — In the last weekend of Alabama’s wild special Senate election, Doug Jones barnstormed the state with A-list Democrats in a bid to turn out black voters he desperately needs to win in the deep-red state.
Republican Roy Moore disappeared.
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Confronting accusations that he harassed or molested teenage girls, Moore hasn’t held a public event since Tuesday, a decision that has perplexed some Republicans given the closeness of the race. Two Republicans briefed on Moore’s schedule before this weekend said he intended to spend Saturday in Philadelphia at the Army-Navy football game — a long-planned trip that the West Point grad had insisted he would still take this year despite the election.
One of those Republicans, who expressed concern about Moore’s absence, said that the planned trip was discussed with Moore’s campaign within the last few weeks and the candidate determined to go — case closed.
Moore’s campaign declined repeated requests to discuss his whereabouts and refused to say whether he had in fact gone to Philadelphia. His absence has baffled local and out of town reporters, some of whom staked out Moore’s church on Sunday morning only to be informed that he wouldn’t be attending.
Vice News on Sunday quoted a Moore campaign county chairman who said that the candidate was indeed in Philadelphia to take in the football game with his son.
The mystery surrounding Moore’s disappearance added another layer of drama to a race that has been thrust into the spotlight amid a national upheaval surrounding sexual harassment. Once considered a shoo-in, Moore — damaged by allegations that he pursued teenagers when he was in his 30s — heads into Election Day with only a tenuous lead.
Senior Republicans, including some in the White House, said they were reviewing private polling showing Moore clinging to a low-single-digit lead. Other surveys, however, showed Moore with a more comfortable lead. Rick Shaftan, a GOP operative who is overseeing several pro-Moore outside groups, recently circulated to fellow Republicans poll results showing Moore up 8 percentage points.
With Moore nowhere to be seen in the final stretch, Jones raced to fill the void. During an appearance in Birmingham on Sunday, the Democrat highlighted his opponent’s disappearance.
“What kind of senator hides from his constituents?” the Democrat told reporters.
Jones has focused on turning out African-Americans, who comprise a substantial portion of the Democratic base. He spent the weekend campaigning with Democratic Party headliners including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
But Democrats are still concerned that not enough black voters will cast ballots.
“Some people don’t understand: the opposite of justice is not injustice. It is inaction and indifference,” Booker told a crowd of roughly 200 at Alabama State University in Montgomery on Saturday night, reminding the audience that he has family roots in the state. “Bad people get elected when good people don’t vote.”
During the final days of the race, Jones, looking to capitalize on a wave of funding from liberals eager to see Moore defeated, has been intensifying his outreach to African-Americans, particularly in Birmingham and Montgomery. One pro-Jones group, BlackPAC, has funneled over $200,000 to spur black voters to the polls in the last five days. In heavily black Selma, where Jones appeared with Patrick and Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell on Saturday, the streets are lined with yard signs declaring, “VOTE OR DIE.”
Yet Jones must walk a tightrope. To win, he also needs more middle-of-the-road voters who have been turned off by Moore. Jones’s campaign has flooded Republican areas with mailers highlighting the criticism Moore has faced from longtime Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and first daughter Ivanka Trump. Looking to win over anti-Moore moderates, Jones has also recorded radio ads in which he proclaims his independence from either party.
And on Sunday, the Jones campaign pushed out a pair of online ads highlighting a Shelby appearance on CNN earlier in the day in which he said he didn’t vote for Moore.
Moore’s path to victory, by comparison, is more straightforward. A four-decade veteran of the Alabama political scene, he must simply ensure that enough staunch conservatives head to the polls. Looking to activate the Republican base, Moore has sent out mailers highlighting his endorsement from President Donald Trump and portraying Jones as a steadfast ally of Hillary Clinton.
Some pro-Moore groups are taking an even more pointed approach to energize conservatives. One Moore-aligned group, Restore Our Godly Heritage PAC, is airing commercials on nearly 60 stations around the state accusing Jones of “trying to steal the election with vile, racist ads on black radio.”
“Desperate to steal this Senate race, Jones and his race-hustling allies are trying to start a race war and it’s only going to get worse in the final weekend, with millions of dollars in street money to turn out the vote,” it adds.
Moore’s advisers have also been trying to stoke doubt about the sexual assault allegations. On Friday, his campaign held a press conference in Montgomery to highlight revelations that one of his accusers, Beverly Young Nelson, had added an inscription to a high school yearbook that she said Moore had signed for her.
“Alabama is an overwhelmingly Republican state,” said Blake Harris, an Alabama-based GOP strategist. “The question is whether the turmoil of the campaign keeps Republicans at home. That’s the million-dollar question.”
While Moore heads into Tuesday as the favorite, he isn’t an overwhelming one. According to media buying figures obtained by POLITICO, Moore, who has been deserted by most of the GOP donor class, has been outspent on the TV airwaves by a nearly six-to-one margin.
“My prediction is he will win by a few points, but the allegations took a toll,” said Scott Beason, a former Alabama state senator and radio talk show host who recently interviewed Moore.
Some senior Republicans said Moore had little to gain, and potentially a lot to lose, by hitting the campaign trail. He would only be barraged by questions from reporters about the alleged sexual improprieties, they reasoned.
Moore is expected to surface before voters go to the polls. On Monday evening, he’s scheduled to attend at a “Drain the Swamp” rally, joined by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Moore is also depending on President Donald Trump to make his case. The president has recorded a pro-Moore robo-call that’s expected to be released on Monday.
The president has told those close to him that the race is close – and that he’s willing to do whatever is needed to pull the Alabama Republican over the finish line.