Alabama drama nears an explosive end

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones made their closing arguments to voters on Monday, a day before one of the most anticipated special elections in U.S. history. 

Jones, a Democrat hoping to make history with a huge upset win in the deep-red state, campaigned in Birmingham with former NBA superstar and Alabama native Charles Barkley.

The presence of the television commentator, a college basketball star at Auburn, underlined Jones’s effort to turn out African-American voters, who will need to vote in large numbers for him to have a chance of becoming the first Democrat to win a Senate race in the state since 1992.

Moore, after a weekend in which his campaign held no events, campaigned in Midland City, a town of less than 2,500 people in the southeast corner of the state. Moore is strongest with rural and small-town white voters in Alabama, and he chose for his closing rally a part of the state where he trounced GOP Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeGOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries Roy Moore trails Republican field in Alabama The Hill's Morning Report — US strikes approved against Iran pulled back MORE (Ala.) in a primary earlier this fall.

“If you don’t believe in my character, don’t vote for me. The differences between my opponent and me are vast,” Moore said Monday night.

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He appeared with Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon, along with controversial former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and conservative firebrand Rep. Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertConservative lawmakers demand Schiff's recusal from Trump impeachment inquiry Louie Gohmert's exchange with Robert Mueller revealed an uneasy relationship Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess MORE (R-Texas.).

The presence of Bannon and Barkley was a reminder of the stark racial divisions that could be at play in Tuesday’s vote. Barkley called Bannon a white supremacist and said Moore should have been disqualified for his alignment with the former White House strategist for President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE.

Bannon leaned on his populist and nationalist perspective, framing a Moore election as a victory for working class Americans who have been kept down by the elites.  

“It's an up or down vote tomorrow between the Trump miracle and the nullification project,” Bannon said, describing the Democratic effort to push back on Trump’s agenda.

Turnout for Tuesday’s special election is especially hard to predict, a reality embodied by dueling polls released on Monday. A Fox News poll showed Jones up by 10 points, while an Emerson poll found that Moore had a 9-point lead.

Moore trudges into Tuesday with a slim lead in RealClearPolitics’s average of recent polling, which shows how far he’s fallen in a state Trump won last year by more than 27 percentage points. 

Accusations that Moore pursued underage women when he was in his 30s have dramatically changed a race for which he was once seen as the shoo-in winner.

In the most serious cases, one woman claims Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16 years old, while another says she had a sexual encounter with Moore when she was 14 years old.

The accusations have turned establishment Republicans already cool to Moore against him.

Even Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMeet Trump's most trusted pollsters Contractors fight for pay from last shutdown — and the next one Trump signs stopgap measure, funding government through November MORE (Ala.), who switched to the Republican Party in 1994 after winning reelection to the Senate as a Democrat, is opposing Moore. He says he wrote in the name of a conservative Republican.

“Let’s not be crazy here, this was never going to be a tight race until the allegations came,” said Alabama GOP strategist Jonathan Gray. 

“You’ve got to take it into consideration, [Jones] ran a smart campaign. But Alabama hasn’t had a real competitive general election with the Democrat Party in a dozen years,” Gray said.

Both campaigns have spent the final days trying to get out their bases.

Jones spent the weekend on stops with prominent black Democratic lawmakers such as Alabama Rep. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellHouse Democrat explains decision to back impeachment: 'We've crossed a Rubicon' Sunday shows lineup: Trump impeachment dominates the talk circuit Live coverage: House panel to hear about whistleblower complaint MORE and New Jersey Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRepublicans wrestle with impeachment strategy O'Rourke campaign says path to victory hinges on top 5 finishes in Iowa, Nevada O'Rourke raises .5 million in third quarter MORE, while Congressional Black Caucus members Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) and Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondTwo former Congressional Black Caucus chairmen back Biden Election security funds caught in crosshairs of spending debate Lawmakers weigh responses to rash of ransomware attacks MORE (D-La.) held get-out-the-vote events down state. 

Speaking to reporters on Sunday outside his campaign office, Jones noted the record-breaking snowfall as something that perhaps could be a good omen for his campaign.

“We started this campaign back in May. It was a warm, sunny day. And people said, what are the odds?” he said. 

“Folks said, ‘Well, the odds are as good as getting a 5-inch snow in December in Birmingham, Alabama.’ So it has come to pass,” Jones said.

While African-Americans make up roughly a quarter of Alabama’s population, years of dismal Democratic returns have left his party without much of a ground game. 

Jones’s campaign has furiously fought to find every vote, making 1.2 million phone calls and knocking on more than 300,000 doors, according to the campaign.

Alabama Democratic state Rep. Anthony Daniels, who serves as the state House Democratic leader, told The Hill that he thinks Jones could win. But he lamented the lack of attention national Democrats have given to the state during the past eight years.

“I wish that the [Democratic National Committee] had focused more on states and making certain they had infrastructure here,” he said. 

“If there was an infrastructure, and I know people will say I’m crazy, Jones should be up 20 points,” he said.

While Moore’s time on the trail has been limited recently — he admitted on Monday that he and his family spent the final weekend of the campaign out of state visiting their son at West Point — he did sit down for an interview on “The Voice of Alabama Politics” at the state Republican Party headquarters, which aired Sunday.

Moore repeated his adamant denials of sexual misconduct.

“I represent their values, I represent what they believe,” he said of his state’s voters. “Alabamians, like many people in the south, are very conservative.

“They want judges who go by the law, they want immigration to be under the Congress’s purview of what the law is and what is passed. They don’t want courts or anybody else making it up as they go, they don’t want presidents imposing on them.” 

Trump has come to Moore’s aid, rallying supporters with an event Friday in Pensacola, Fla., just a short drive from the border. 

On Monday, he issued a robocall boosting Moore.

“If Alabama elects liberal Democrat Doug Jones, all of our progress will be stopped cold,” Trump says in the call. “Roy Moore is the guy we need to pass our ‘Make America Great Again’ agenda.”

A Moore victory would likely raise just as many questions as it answers. Senate Republicans have floated holding expulsion proceedings to look at removing Moore from office over the sexual misconduct allegations. 

Gray, the Alabama GOP strategist, compared Moore to Herbie from “The Love Bug,” the car from a 1960s Disney movie that finishes its climactic race in first place, despite coming apart at the seams in the final moments. 

“Roy Moore looks like Herbie the Love Bug, out there with no bumper and no tires, but he’s screaming across the finish line,” Gray said. “And everyone’s standing here with their mouths wide open.”