by Ivan Couronne The most contentious US election of 2017 came to its tumultuous conclusion Tuesday as polls shuttered in Alabama's closely-watched Senate contest between a Republican dogged by sexual assault accusations and a Democrat seeking an upset win.
The race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is being seen as a harbinger of whether the Republican Party can retain its slim Senate majority in next year’s mid-term elections.
It carries extraordinarily broad implications, and serves as a test of the partisan nature of American politics at a time of acrimonious debate about President Donald Trump and his policies.
Polls closed across the state at 7:00 pm (0100 GMT Wednesday), and the race was being considered a tossup.
According to exit polls, 45 percent of voters think the accusations against Moore are “false,” while 49 percent believe them to be true.
Trump has made the high-stakes vote a test of his brand of populism by urging loyalists to elect Moore, a 70-year-old ultra-conservative former state chief justice.
If Moore loses in this deeply conservative southern state, which Trump won by 28 points last year, Republicans will see their majority slip from 52 to 51 in the 100-seat Senate, reducing their margin for maneuver to the bare minimum.
Moore, who wants to bring his Christian religious activism to Washington, has for the past month been fighting accusations he fondled two underage girls in the late 1970s when he was a state prosecutor in his 30s.
Having avoided reporters for weeks, Moore was asked about the allegations after he and his wife Kayla arrived on horseback to vote at a fire station in the town of Gallant.
“We’re done with that,” said Moore, clad in a cowboy hat. “Let’s get back to the issues.
“This is a very important race for our country, for our state and for the future.”
The scandal has put a Senate seat from Alabama within reach of Democrats for the first time in a quarter century.
And it has created a major headache for Republicans. The party’s leaders and members of Congress called on Moore to step down after the allegations first surfaced, to no avail. Now, regardless of the outcome, they face a no-win situation.
If Moore wins, the Republican brand risks being sullied by association with the judge, particularly at a time of national upheaval over sexual harassment and the right of victims to be heard.
The chamber’s Republican members are reportedly scheduled to meet early Wednesday to discuss Moore’s possible election.
Should he win, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that the ethics committee will conduct an investigation into Moore, which could prompt a vote on whether to expel him from the chamber.
– Trump, Obama make push -To protect the precious Senate seat at stake in Tuesday’s vote, Trump ultimately endorsed the scandal-tainted Republican.
“VOTE ROY MOORE!” Trump tweeted early on polling day. “Doug Jones is Pro-Abortion, weak on Crime, Military and Illegal Immigration, Bad for Gun Owners and Veterans and against the WALL.”
Democrat Jones received support from former president Barack Obama who recorded a robocall to Alabama voters, in a state where the African American electorate could prove decisive.
“We feel very, very good about the outcome,” Jones said at an early morning rally.
The campaign to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been memorably virulent, in a state accustomed to rough politics.
Ostracized by many in his own party, Moore took a page from Trump’s playbook, rejecting the women’s allegations as “fake news.”
Republican voter Katie Cunningham said she was standing by Moore despite the misconduct allegations.
“I think he’s innocent until proven guilty,” the 48-year-old nurse told AFP.
“We’re Trump supporters, we’re Republicans, we support him all the way.”
– Spending big -Democrats have invested heavily in the battle. Thanks to an avalanche of donations, they have flooded the airwaves with TV ads, and deployed leading black Democrats to mobilize the African-American vote — about a quarter of the electorate.
Jones, a 63-year-old former federal prosecutor, has also tried to win over moderate Republicans and upper middle-class voters repelled by the accusations against Moore.
“It is time that we put our decency, our state, before a political party,” Jones told supporters in Birmingham late Monday.
Jones is known for having convicted two Ku Klux Klan members for bombing a black church in Birmingham in an attack that killed four African American girls.
His support for abortion rights, however, is anathema to many conservatives, who may choose to write in another candidate aside from the two on the ballot. DM
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