One Hot Mess Moves to Toss Up

Alabama Senate: One Hot Mess Moves to Toss Up

It’s been five days since a Washington Post report detailed the stories of four women who allege that Republican nominee Roy Moore engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with them when they were between the ages of 14 and 18 years old and Moore was in his 30s. Five days haven’t brought much clarity to what impact these charges will have on the special election scheduled on December 12. If anything, divisions between Moore and many of his supporters in Alabama and Republicans in Congress have only grown deeper.

It’s hard to know whether Moore can or will win the special election. What we do know is that there is so much uncertainty surrounding the vote that moving the race to the Toss Up is the best way to describe where this race is today.

So, what’s happened since last Thursday afternoon? A lot, actually.

  • Moore has not waivered from his assertion that the report of these allegations is a grand conspiracy in which these women (who don’t know each other and did not approach the Post with their story) were somehow coerced into making false claims. While initially blaming the national media and Democrats, Moore seems to have settled on blaming the national media and Republicans who don’t want him to win the race. The title of an email sent to supporters on Monday night read, “McConnell’s Dirty Plot to Destroy Me.”
  • Moore has plenty of defenders in Alabama who are so convinced that this is fake news that they won’t spend a minute wondering if what these women are saying is true. One of Moore’s supporters explained his views in an interview with The Hill, saying, “My gosh, it's The Washington Post. If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time.” Needless to say that he will be voting for Moore.
  • A fifth woman has come forward with more allegations and evidence that she and Moore were acquainted when she was in high school, producing her high school yearbook that featured an inscription from Moore, which reads, “To a sweeter more beautiful girl I could not say, 'Merry Christmas.' Love, Roy Moore DA, 12-22-77, Olde Hickory House."
  • It’s been determined that there is no way to remove Moore’s name from the ballot. He must withdraw from the race.
  • The media and Democrats across the country asked Republican Senate, House and gubernatorial incumbents and challengers, alike, over the weekend whether they believe the allegations against Moore and whether they will continue support him. It is these questions that give Republicans agita as it previews the amount of damage that Moore can do to the party on many levels. At this point, they view Moore as a contagious virus.
  • As of Friday, GOP Senators were saying that Moore should step aside if the allegations are true. By Monday morning, that sentiment had changed. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put it most succinctly when he told a press gaggle, “I believe the women.” McConnell’s view has the support of most, if not all, of the GOP Senate Conference.
  • The leadership took their view a step further when NRSC Chair Corey Gardner of Colorado released the following statement on Monday afternoon:
    I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office. If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.
  • Three polls that went into the field starting on Thursday night and produced results ranging from a four-point lead for Democrat Doug Jones to a tie to a Moore advantage of 10 points. In other words, no know really knows where this race stands today.

So what is the most important of these developments? Chairman Gardner’s statement, as he is speaking for the leadership. This puts the Republican Conference clearly on the record in their belief that Moore is unfit to serve, and means that they have enough votes to expel Moore should he make it to the Senate.

Will Moore withdraw from the race? It is very unlikely. It is worth remembering that Moore was suspended and eventually removed from the state Supreme Court for violating the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics because he would not obey a judge’s order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the courthouse lawn. He was elected to the court again, but suspended for a second time in 2013 for directing probate judges to continue to enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional (he resigned in 2016 to run for the Senate). He did these things rather than simply resign.

If Moore stays in the race, do Republicans risk supporting a write-in campaign against him? It’s unlikely since a three-way race would almost guarantee that Jones, the Democrat, would emerge with a plurality of the vote and the seat. Some Republicans believe that Attorney General Jeff Sessions could mount a write-in campaign for his old seat and drain enough votes from Moore to win a plurality. It’s hard to know how serious this is being considered, or whether it’s wishful thinking on the part of some White House officials who are behind frequent rumors that Sessions is resigning. We have our doubts about whether a Sessions write-in effort can be successful as long as Moore is in the race. Absent Moore, Sessions could certainly win the seat as a write-in.

So if Moore wins and Republicans intend to expel him, how would that work? If Moore wins the election on December 12, there is a 10-day certification period, which brings the calendar to December 22. This is followed by a 10-day period to complete the canvas, although it may take less time than that. The Senate must be in working session (not pro forma) to seat a Senator, so the earliest Moore can seated is January 3 when the second session of this Congress begins. As long as the paperwork is in order, the Senate must seat Moore.

To expel Moore (or any other member), the Select Committee on Ethics must issue a report. At that point, a resolution can be filed and voted on immediately. Ethics can start an investigation before Moore is seated. This does mean that Moore could spend some time in the chamber between being seated and an expulsion vote. This is where it could get tricky for Republicans. Democrats will certainly vote for expulsion, but they wouldn’t mind having Moore in the chamber for a while to watch Republicans squirm.

There is another question we have about this scenario. Republicans have to seat Moore, but do they have to accept him as a member of the GOP Conference? If they have a choice, they probably won’t. This is where Moore will discover that the Senate really is a team sport. A Senator needs to join one party or the other to get committee assignments. No conference membership, no committee assignments. It would help the GOP’s cause to deprive Moore of the platform committee hearings afford a member. This doesn’t mean that Moore won’t be a near permanent fixture on cable television, or in the words of Charlie Cook, “throw live grenades down the center aisle of the Senate chamber” on a regular basis, but it would limit his ability to weigh in on policy and executive branch nominations.

And/But …. What if Moore doesn’t win on December 12? In truth, the biggest winner in all of this has been Jones, the Democratic nominee. Apart from condemning Moore and seeing his fundraising spike, Jones hasn’t changed much about his campaign, nor does he have to. Moore’s problems are likely to make it easier for Jones to get his supporters to the polls and to expand his base to include Republicans who can’t vote for Moore or accept the possibility that he could serve in the Senate. It is still a tough road, but it gets a bit smoother every day.

So, yes, this race is a hot mess that is likely to get messier between now and December 12. And, the circumstances of a special election and the allegations against Moore combine to create as much uncertainty as we’ve seen in a Senate race since 2000 when Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan was on the ballot despite his death in a plane crash three weeks before the election. The contest moves to Toss Up, as it is the only appropriate way of describing this uncertainty. Stay tuned.

Image: AP Photo/Richard Drew