- The Washington Times
Sunday, December 3, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Montgomery resident Cliff Coleman worries that a Roy Moore victory in the Dec. 12 special election for U.S. Senate will perpetuate what he sees as an unfair stereotype of a state full of boorish rednecks and bigots.

For Mr. Coleman, a law student, Alabama has been a welcoming and compassionate place.

But his view of the state, he fears, won’t carry much weight in the rest of the country if Mr. Moore wins in the face of accusations that he had an intimate encounter with a 14-year-old and courted other teenage girls at a local mall while he was in his 30s.

“I think for us as Alabama residents, we want our state represented in a different way,” said Mr. Coleman, a Christian who considered himself a conservative Republican before Donald Trump’s rise. “Just personally, I think Mr. Moore is kind of an embodiment of that stereotype. I think a lot of people outside the state, outside the South, will look and be like, ‘Oh, of course.’”

Most of Mr. Moore’s supporters have moved past the accusations and shrug off how others might view the state.

Republican State Rep. Ed Henry joked that reinforcing Alabama stereotypes might be beneficial by keeping critics out of “paradise.”

Mr. Henry said voters worried about how the state is perceived fail to recognize the opportunity voters have to strip power away from a ruling class of politicians that “have basically sold our country out for the last 30, 40, 50 years.”

“The stereotyping of Alabama is going to occur regardless of what we do,” Mr. Henry said at a Biker’s for Trump Rally in Scottsboro on Sunday. “I feel like we are on this precipice of this great movement that could happen in the country. It is time to change, and Roy Moore is a piece of that.”

The accusations against Mr. Moore — which he vehemently denies — have turned the race into a national political spectacle and provided fodder for late-night talk show hosts who run segments poking fun at Alabama voters.

The accusations also elevated the hopes of Democrats, who believe their candidate, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones, gives the party the best shot at winning its first statewide election since 2008.

Democrats hope Mr. Jones’ history as a U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted two members of the Ku Klux Klan for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four black girls, could boost his appeal with Republicans who have not been thrilled with Mr. Moore, a staunch Christian conservative who was best known for being ousted from the state Supreme Court over his refusal to remove a granite monument of the Ten Commandments from a judicial building.

“Alabama is at a crossroads, and the contrast between me and Roy Moore cannot be greater,” Mr. Jones said at a fish fry at the Maggie Street Baptist Church in Montgomery. “We have to decide what kind of Alabama we want to have. Do we want to have an Alabama in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect and equally or do we want to have an Alabama that tells the country that we are still a divisive people, that we only care about a certain segment of our population?”

Mr. Moore, in recent days, has limited events to churches, where pastors have spoken in Biblical terms about refusing to bow down to establishments that trample over traditional values, and he has warned that Mr. Jones will not stand for Christian principles.

“God is sovereign over all,” Mr. Moore said at a recent event in Dora, a small community outside Birmingham. “I don’t say this at my little apartment or house. If anybody in Washington wants to hear it, I just said it.

“I want the television to know, I don’t hate homosexuals, I do not hate transgender people, but I do hate sin,” Mr. Moore said.

A little over a week from the special election, polls show Mr. Moore has rebounded after falling behind Mr. Jones — fueling concerns among Democrats that the opportunity to pull off an upset in a rock-red state is slipping away.

Mr. Coleman’s wife, Brooke, who backed Hillary Clinton last year, said the reality is that many voters in the deeply conservative state can’t stomach the idea of voting for a Democrat — even in extreme circumstances.

“Let’s just put it this way,” said Mrs. Coleman, carrying the couple’s 8-month-old son, Lion, on her hip. “We have people tell us to our face they would rather vote for a Republican who may be a pedophile than a Democrat. That is concerning.”

A Washington Post poll released over the weekend found Mr. Jones and Mr. Moore running neck and neck.

As for the accusations, 35 percent of likely voters said they think Mr. Moore made unwanted advances toward teenage girls, compared with 28 percent of likely voters who said he did not. The remaining respondents said they were not certain.

The poll underscored how Republicans are wrestling with defending the seat versus concerns that Mr. Moore could tarnish the state’s image.

Democrats are more unified in their support for Mr. Jones, the poll showed.

With the exception of President Trump, national Republicans abandoned Mr. Moore weeks ago. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin have called on him to pull the plug on his campaign.

The Republican National Committee also severed ties, leaving his campaign to fend for itself over the closing weeks of the campaign.

Mr. Trump, though, has stuck behind Mr. Moore, saying he will do more than Mr. Jones to advance his agenda. Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, Stephen K. Bannon, plans to headline a campaign event with Mr. Moore in Alabama on Tuesday.

On the state level, Mr. Moore maintains a loyal band of followers — particularly among evangelical Christians who want to elect more culture warriors willing to take a stand for traditional values that they believe are under siege from liberal forces across the country.

Pastor Jeremy Ragland, who had Mr. Moore speak to his congregation in Dora, said he wants to see more like-minded Christians elected to public office and plans to give Mr. Moore the benefit of the doubt until convinced otherwise.

“I don’t know the facts,” Mr. Ragland said. “My stance on it is I wish our election was six months from now so we could see as the facts and make a well-researched decision.

“I believe in due process, and I think that right now we are having zero substantial evidence but some circumstantial evidence, and I have not seen enough to make me bail yet,” Mr. Ragland said.

The Alabama Republican Party Steering Committee reached a similar conclusion last month when it said Mr. Moore “deserves to be presumed innocent of the accusations unless proven otherwise.”

Democrats, and anti-Moore Republicans, see it differently.

Democrat Marvin Rudolph, who showed up for the Jones fish fry in Montgomery, disagreed with the logic of that argument.

“Due process is a due process for the courts,” said Mr. Rudolph, who works for the Montgomery County Board of Education. “Public opinion is not based on due process. O.J. Simpson was acquitted, but in the public he was convicted.”

Richard C. Fording, a political science professor at the University of Alabama, said quite a few Republicans from more affluent and more educated areas share Democrats’ concern that Alabama’s image could take a hit if Mr. Moore wins.

“Many of them did not like Trump either, but I think this is kind of a new low,” Mr. Fording said. “Trump was a nationwide phenomenon, but Roy Moore is our very own product.”

Indeed, Republican Sen. Richard C. Shelby said he could not vote for Mr. Moore when he cast his absentee ballot. Instead, he wrote in a candidate. The Young Republican Federation of Alabama pulled its support, saying the group believes in “innocence until proven guilty but not necessarily electability until proven guilty.”

Several party and county leaders from the state’s more urban areas — Birmingham, Huntsville and Montgomery — have gone quiet since the accusations arose, as have members of the business community who worry that Mr. Moore could hurt the economy — perhaps even put a dent in Birmingham’s bid to land Amazon’s second headquarters, which was already viewed as a long shot.

Those Republicans, Moore backers say, are being gutless.

“Why would you put yourself out there and make a mistake of saying something wrong or offensive when you are already in charge?” said Isaiah Sankey, a Democrat on the Montgomery County Commission. “They are playing it safe. They are already running the show.”

This list of leaders who endorsed Mr. Moore only to go silent includes Alabama Speaker Mac McCutcheon who led an unsuccessful push in 2012 to raise the legal age of consent in Alabama from 16 to 18 years, saying the change could help reduce the number of child predators.

Whatever happens next week, Mr. Coleman, a 27-year-old who voted for Republicans in the 2008 and 2012 presidential race before voting for independent Gary Johnson in 2016, said he just hopes that Alabama is held in a positive light.

“I think the biggest thing for me is that I would like people to look at my state, the state that I am from, where I pay taxes and I vote, and I plan on working in, that hey what a lot of people might see as stereotypical Alabama, that’s not the case,” he said.

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