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Five things to watch for in Alabama Senate race

Five things to watch for in Alabama Senate race
© Photo illustration/Garrett Evans

Alabama’s special election is headed for a dramatic finish Tuesday, as Republican Roy Moore seeks to keep the Senate seat in GOP hands amid allegations that he romantically and sexually pursued teenage girls.

The former state Supreme Court chief justice is fighting for his political life against Democrat Doug Jones in a race that has tightened since the first bombshell allegation broke about a month before election day.

Jones, a former federal prosecutor, is hoping he can build an unprecedented coalition of supporters to make him the first Democratic senator from Alabama in 25 years. But turnout has been hard to predict, even a day before the vote.

Polls close at 8 p.m. Here are five things to watch in the high-stakes special election:

Can Jones mobilize black voters?

Jones needs high turnout among black voters, who make up about a quarter of the Alabama electorate, to pull off a win.

On the final weekend before the election, prominent black politicians, including Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerUndiagnosed sleep apnea cause of two rail crashes: NTSB WATCH: Dems say Trump will look like he has something to hide if he avoids Muller interview Protecting the special counsel is an American duty MORE (D-N.J.), former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) and several Congressional Black Caucus members, took to the campaign trail to give Jones an eleventh-hour boost.

Jones’s record on civil rights could boost him with black voters. As a prosecutor, Jones brought charges against two Ku Klux Klan bombers.

But black voters’ enthusiasm for Jones has at times been tepid, and some black activists have complained about a Jones mailer. The controversial mailer featured a black man with a skeptical look and text that reads: “Think if a black man went after high school girls anyone would try to make him a senator?”

Jones will need massive turnout from black voters in more urban areas as well as the “Black Belt,” which consists of rural counties that are predominantly black and includes the cities of Selma and Montgomery.

Can Moore keep moderate Republicans and women in his corner?

Alabama is a heavily Republican state, but Moore can’t afford to lose moderate GOP voters, especially women, who may be more willing to pull the lever for a Democrat after the allegations.

Many GOP voters turned off by the Moore allegations live in cities and suburban areas. Key areas to keep an eye on are the suburbs in Jefferson County, the largest county in the state that includes Birmingham, and Madison County, where Huntsville is located.

Will Moore benefit from the Trump bump?

As Moore rebuilt his lead weeks after the allegations were first reported, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTillerson: Russia already looking to interfere in 2018 midterms Dems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Speier on Trump's desire for military parade: 'We have a Napoleon in the making' MORE eventually weighed in and gave him a full-throated endorsement. The Republican National Committee followed suit and restored its financial support for Moore.

Trump has argued that Alabamians can’t elect a “liberal Democrat” to the seat and need Moore’s vote to pass tax reform. Days before the election, the president held a rally in Pensacola, Fla., just 20 miles from the Alabama border. He also recorded a robocall for Moore.

Trump carried Alabama by nearly 30 points in 2016, and his approval rating in the state remains much higher than his underwater national numbers. Keep an eye on rural areas, where Trump’s endorsement could help Moore run up the score.

Will write-in votes sway the race?

Some Republicans initially floated a write-in campaign after the Moore allegations surfaced. But with Moore defiant that he’d stay in the race, no major Republican launched a serious write-in campaign.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCornyn: We'll need at least one more stopgap funding bill Moore supporters fire back at Richard Shelby Disaster aid becomes hostage to funding fight MORE (R-Ala.), who’s been publicly critical of Moore, confirmed that he voted for a “distinguished Republican write-in.” A top newspaper group in Alabama urged Alabamians to follow Shelby’s lead and write in another Republican instead of voting for Moore.

It’s unclear how many voters will write in their vote. But it would likely hurt Moore more than Jones, since some reliable GOP voters are looking for an alternative to voting for Moore or a Democrat.

Lee Busby, a former aide to White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, mounted a late write-in campaign while insisting he wouldn’t be a spoiler. Busby’s bid has gained little traction.

What will turnout look like?

Special elections typically yield low, unpredictable turnout and the Tuesday contest will likely be no different.

Bad winter weather could also keep even more voters sitting on the sidelines. Days before the election, Alabama was hit with snow, with some areas of the state receiving up to 5 inches.

Turnout in the September GOP runoff was below 500,000 voters, while Alabama’s secretary of State has predicted about 20 to 25 percent turnout on Tuesday.

Jones will need to run up the score in heavily African-American counties, as well as counties that were carried by Moore’s opponent in the GOP runoff. During the runoff, Moore won every county with the exception of Sumter, Shelby, Jefferson and Madison.

Moore will also need to perform well in the state’s largest counties. He’ll also be looking to drive up voter turnout in friendlier terrain for him, including rural counties in the southern part of the state and the areas around Mobile.