Dem Jones avoids Moore attacks as allegations mount

Dem Jones avoids Moore attacks as allegations mount
© Doug Jones campaign

The bombshell sexual misconduct allegations against Alabama GOP nominee Roy Moore have roiled the state’s Senate race, giving Democrats an unusual chance to win a seat in the deep-red state.

But while a growing number of Republicans — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (Ky.) — called on Moore to leave the race, his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, has largely kept quiet. 

Jones’s poll numbers have surged in the wake of the allegations that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. So far, though, while the Democrat has condemned Moore, he’s sought to keep his focus on “kitchen-table issues,” only engaging on the Moore allegations when pressed by reporters.

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The former federal prosecutor released a second brief statement shortly after another Moore accuser came forward Monday to say he had assaulted her when she was a teenager. Jones praised the accuser’s “courage” in a statement provided to The Hill, adding that “Roy Moore will be held accountable by the people of Alabama for his actions.”

 

Jones’s often quiet approach to the Moore allegations matches with Democrats’ strategy in the race since the beginning. The party has long believed its best chance of success is keeping Jones, rather than his controversial Republican opponent, at the center of the message. 

“When someone has a self-inflicted wound, sometimes your best strategy is to let him bleed. You don’t have to add to it,” John Anzalone, a prominent Democratic pollster based in Montgomery, Ala., said.

“Jones did the work that needed to be done to take advantage of the situation — he’s been up on TV for five weeks, by himself, making an argument that he’s an acceptable guy as a Democrat, not a national Democrat,” Anzalone said.

Lawmakers on both sides scrambled to condemn Moore in the hours after Thursday’s story in The Washington Post quoted a woman who said that Moore touched her sexually when she was 14 years old.

The Post story also included on-the-record accusations that Moore dated teenagers who would have been above the state’s age of consent around the same time, but that no sexual contact occurred outside of kissing in some instances.

Moore has vehemently denied the allegations and has threatened to sue the Post for its story. Many Alabama Republicans have come to his defense, questioning the timing and veracity of the allegations and arguing that they won’t sway Alabamians ahead of the Dec. 12 vote.

But Jones’s campaign only issued a brief statement that night, calling for Moore to “answer these serious allegations.”

 Jones made clear at a campaign rally the next day that he did not want to shift the campaign’s focus. 

“Those are issues that he has to address, not me,” Jones told reporters at a Friday campaign event.

“Our message is the same … kitchen-table issues — jobs, the economy. Health care is such an important issue for the state,” Jones said. “We’re a poor state, we’re an unhealthy state, and health care is probably the biggest issue that’s causing folks to take a look at this race and hit a political reset button.”

But the allegations have clearly turned the race on its head, making Jones, in Anzalone’s view, the “favorite” to win.

Polls conducted after the allegations have shown a tightening race. One poll from Opinion-Savvy and Decision Desk found the two nominees tied, and a survey by JMC Analytics released Sunday showed Jones up by 4 points. The latest poll by The Emerson College, however, shows Moore up by 10 points.

All of the polls show Jones’s numbers rising after the Post published its investigation.

Jones’s path to victory has always relied on winning over Republican voters opposed to Moore and his firebrand style of politics — or at least hoping those Alabamians won’t show up to vote at all. Wary of firing up Alabama Republicans, Jones has said he’d work with the GOP if elected while focusing on fixing Washington, arguing that both parties need a “reality check.”

Moore has been a lightning rod for criticism — as a former state Supreme Court chief justice he’s been kicked off the bench twice for disregarding federal orders, and he’s been no stranger to controversial comments. That résumé has earned him a fervent group of supporters, mostly in the evangelical community. But it’s also repelled more of the GOP’s establishment and business-minded conservatives. 

That divide was on display when Moore ran to reclaim his state Supreme Court seat in 2012, lagging behind 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney by about 9 points.

Anzalone, the veteran Alabama Democratic pollster, said the allegations give those Republican voters the “shove they needed” to ditch Moore.

“This was already an electorate that was uncomfortable with him, but they were in a hold-their-nose situation,” he said. “They are now breathing fresh air now that they have another alternative.”

The pressure continues to mount on Moore as the establishment wing of the party continues to cut ties.

McConnell called on Moore to drop out on Monday, adding that he believes the women’s allegations and floating the possibility of a write-in campaign.

McConnell’s latest comments come after the Senate GOP’s campaign arm removed its name from a joint committee to help fundraise for Moore.

Other Republicans have also called for Moore to step aside. But now that a state-mandated deadline to replace a candidate has passed, Republicans appear to be stuck with Moore’s name on the ballot.

If Moore stepped aside or if the state party broke ties with him, his name would still appear on ballots, even though he’d be ineligible to win.

Republicans have floated getting Gov. Kay Ivey (R) to move back the special election, but her office said on Saturday that she has no plans to change the date.

Despite the controversy, Alabama Republicans believe Washington’s worries about losing the seat to Democrats are overblown. The state hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide in years, Moore’s supporters have rallied around him over the reports and many Republicans abhor the idea of a Democrat representing Alabama in the Senate.

While some Democrats are enthusiastic, it’s unclear whether that will turn into serious national investment from the party. 

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s 'wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE reiterated in an interview on Sunday that Jones is the “underdog” and also touted the DNC’s increased investment in every state party that will help the Democrats “compete everywhere.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, hasn’t announced any investment for Jones since the allegations. But the group has sent several fundraising pitches calling Moore “unfit” to serve. 

But some party strategists still believe national Democrats should be careful not to let a full-court press nationalize the race. 

“It is important not to let our enthusiasm come around and hurt him in the end. The national Democratic brand ain’t all that strong in Alabama,” a Democratic campaign aide told The Hill. “Not having the circus in town has actually gone pretty well for him so far.”