How abortion could tip the scales in Alabama

Abortion has emerged as a firewall issue for Roy Moore in Alabama, where the embattled GOP Senate candidate is framing support for Democrat Doug Jones as a blow to the anti-abortion rights movement.

Abortion is a sensitive issue in Alabama, and one that favors Republicans. A 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center found 58 percent of those polled in Alabama say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases — higher than in all but three states in the country.

Sentiments are strong enough that Moore’s campaign believes voters will choose the anti-abortion rights Republican over Jones, who supports abortion rights, despite allegations that the Republican molested or sexually assaulted teenage girls decades ago.

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Moore has seized on those sentiments as he seeks to save his campaign, moving to make abortion a central issue in the campaign.

 

“Nothing is more precious in the sight of most people than the life of the child, so I can see why people in Alabama would be enraged knowing that Doug Jones is willing to take the life of a child,” Moore campaign chairman Bill Armistead told The Hill in an interview.

“Alabamians are pro-life and as they find out how extremely liberal Doug Jones is on this and other issues like transgender bathrooms, they are going to flee from him. … Voters need to be educated on the candidates and the issues regardless of what they are regardless of what other allegations are out there,” he said.

Moore’s campaign has focused on comments Jones made in September, when he told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that he is “not in favor of anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose.” Those comments sparked attacks from Moore supporters and other conservatives, who claim that Jones is in favor of late-term abortions.

Jones’s camp later released a follow-up statement to The Huffington Post where he said that he supports “current law” that allows for late-term abortions “to protect the life or health of the mother.”

The Pew poll doesn’t delineate between those who believe that abortions should always be illegal and those who agree with some limited exceptions. But Jones’s opponents clearly believe that framing him as supportive of virtually unrestricted abortion access is a political win. 

“He did not put any restrictions on that when he made the statement on MSNBC,” Armistead said.

“Now, if he wants to try to wiggle out of it and say ‘I really meant this or I really meant that,’ he would be just trying to cover his tracks and appear more moderate.”

The Jones campaign blasted Moore in a statement, accusing Moore of distracting voters from his own views and the allegations. 

“Roy Moore has no answers to the multiple reports about his inappropriate sexual behavior with teenagers, and no defense of his policy positions like comparing pre-school to Nazi indoctrination or making Alabamians pay more for health care,” the campaign said. 

“Alabamians are fed up with his act and his pathetic attempts to distract from his divisive and extreme views. Doug believes this is a deeply personal decision and supports the laws that are already on the books.”

Moore has seen his campaign thrust into turmoil since the allegations surfaced earlier this month, prompting a strong surge at the polls by Jones. Jones briefly took the lead in RealClearPolitics’s average of recent polls, but Moore now sits ahead by 1 point as of Tuesday. 

The abortion angle appears to be resonating with Republican voters who could be at risk of cold feet. 

Susan Fillipelli, a former member of the Alabama state GOP steering committee, plans to sit out instead of vote for Moore. But she told The Hill that whenever she shares her plan with fellow Republicans, they revolt based primarily on the issue of abortion. 

“The pushback I get is ‘You are going to make sure an abortionist gets into office.’ That comes back as the No. 1 issue that people push back on,” she told The Hill. 

“[The Moore campaign] has seized on what I think is the issue that will resonate most with a Republican who might be on the fence,”  she said.

Fillipelli added that she believes that abortion law is mostly settled at the federal level, and that she’s not voting for either candidate because she believes it would be easier for Republicans to defeat Jones in 2020 than for someone to knock off an incumbent Moore in a GOP primary. 

News reports from Alabama also show Republicans in the state either citing abortion as why they are standing by Moore or why they are concerned about dumping the party’s nominee for a Democrat. 

Allies in conservative media, along with other Republicans who oppose Moore’s candidacy, have helped push the issue, too.

On Monday morning, popular conservative blog RedState published a column arguing that Jones’s stance on abortion should be a deal-breaker, even as it called Moore “super creepy” and the allegations against him “compelling.” In the post, RedState blogger Joe Cunningham wrote that conservatives should stay home to avoid choosing between an alleged molester and a supporter of abortion rights.

“At RedState, there has always been one hard and fast rule: Oppose abortion at all costs,” Cunningham wrote.

“Jones supports abortion right up until the baby is out of the womb, and even then it’s probably debatable for him. If you vote for Jones, you are not a conservative, and you cannot claim to be one,” he said.

Those sentiments were echoed at The Federalist, where a writer argued that she’d vote for “a hypocrite who will stop the murder of millions of babies” over “a virginal man who leads countless to the slaughter.”

The message has even come from Republicans who aren’t supporting Moore. Stephen Moore, a former economic aide to President Trump who is not related to Roy Moore, argued last week on CNN that there’s “no moral high ground” between the two candidates because of Jones’s stance on abortion.

The former Trump aide told the Hill in a subsequent interview that, while he wouldn’t vote for the Republican candidate, he believes it’s a smart tactic for Roy Moore to use the issue to tug at the heartstrings of Republicans debating staying home or even voting for the Democrat.

Stephen Moore went on to compare the pivot to Trump changing the subject during his presidential campaign from the allegations of sexual misconduct against him to the accusations that have dogged former President Clinton.

“I think Roy Moore is a creep. I wouldn’t vote for him. But if you are trying to win the race for your candidate, a change of subject is a very smart strategy,” Stephen Moore said.

During remarks Monday night in Fort Payne, Ala., Roy Moore accused the media of being the ones changing the agenda away from the issues in the first place.

“They are trying to hide the true issues which face the people of this country and this state, that they want resolved. It’s no different than when The Washington Post brought out the Russia investigation at a time where President Trump is trying to get his agenda passed,” Moore said.

Moore highlighted his own opposition to abortion, calling the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case “an unconstitutional decision” and comparing it to the Dred Scott case, which ruled slaves were property and that Congress couldn’t outlaw slavery.

But while the Moore campaign and other Republicans are beating this drum, it remains to be seen whether Moore will be able to reach fence-sitting voters and make the argument resonate.

Jones is vastly outspending Moore on the airwaves, where he’s directly targeting Republicans who have been turned off by the allegations.

One advertisement shows a group of self-proclaimed “lifelong Republicans” criticizing Moore; another features top Republicans, including first daughter Ivanka Trump and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat House passes concealed carry gun bill Rosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week MORE, whose Senate seat Moore is hoping to fill, talking about the accusations and praising “conservative voices putting children and women over party.” A third ad shows pictures of all the women who have accused Moore of pursuing them while they were teenagers.

“The allegations on Moore and minors trumps any concern about Jones and abortion views,” Alabama Democratic pollster John Anzalone told The Hill in an email.

“Maybe more importantly, unless Moore (or an independent expenditure) brings this message to broadcast TV, I think it is a tree falling in the forest. No one is there to hear it or be influenced by it,” he said.

Anzalone went on to add that most voters in Alabama already assume that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for policies more supportive of abortion rights, so in his mind, Jones’s strong polling over the past few weeks has that fact “baked in.”

But even if Moore’s campaign is drowned out on the airwaves, it still has one supporter who can deliver a similar message far and wide.

President Trump has doubled down on his support for Moore in recent days, despite urging from Washington Republicans, arguing that he needs Moore’s conservative voice in Washington and downplaying the accusations.

In an interview, Armistead thanked the president for shining a light on their final argument.

“I think President Trump understands the issues and what is at stake here,” the Moore campaign chairman said.

“We are grateful to him for pointing out to Americans and Alabamians the extreme, liberal positions that Doug Jones has.”