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News Brief: Roy Moore Vs. Doug Jones In Alabama Special Election


It's Election Day in Alabama.


It sure is. And it is worth remembering, this is just one of 100 Senate seats that is at stake. It is the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general. But allegations of sexual misconduct amid a national debate about it have raised the profile of this race. Democrat Doug Jones says this election means a lot to Alabama.


DOUG JONES: This election is going to be one of the most significant in our state's history in a long, long time. And we've got to make sure...


JONES: We've got to make sure that at this crossroads in Alabama's history, we take the right road.

KELLY: So that's Doug Jones. Republican Roy Moore is accused by several women of pursuing them when they were teenagers. He was in his 30s. Roy Moore has broadly denied this.


ROY MOORE: This election's for the people of Alabama. We dare defend our rights, and we will defend our rights in the United States Congress.


INSKEEP: Rachel Martin is joining us from our member station WBHM in Birmingham, Ala., with more on the race.

Hey there, Rachel. How they're treating you down there?


Hi. Oh, it's the South. They're treating us great. You kidding me?


INSKEEP: Of course they are. Of course they are.

MARTIN: Birmingham is a great town.

INSKEEP: All right, I don't want to keep you from your breakfast, but let me just ask a couple questions, if I might. How are the two campaigns focusing at the end?

MARTIN: Well, it is the push to the finish, right? We are in the final hours. Today's voting day. The Moore camp has been pretty consistent in this last push. For Roy Moore, this is the next step in a very long career in Alabama politics. His message is the same as it's always been, that he is an independent voice with a conservative, Christian worldview. And he says he's not going to hesitate to break glass in Washington, take on the establishment. Meanwhile, the Democratic challenger, Doug Jones - he's obviously got a steeper hill to climb. This is a bright-red state.

So the state hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992. Jones is hoping that he can turn out African-American voters. He's been pushing in that direction. The campaign's put a lot of energy there. Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey was here over the weekend - former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. And of course, the most popular Democrat in this state is former President Barack Obama. He has not been here in person to stump with Doug Jones, but he has recorded robocalls in support of him.

INSKEEP: Although, of course, none of those outsiders have a vote. What are the voters saying?

MARTIN: Right, and indeed. So the diehard supporters in each camp - they've got their positions, and they'll tell you great things about both candidates. But on the whole, I would say based on the conversations we've had, there're a lot of conflicted voters here. One conservative Christian we spoke with said he's going to vote for Moore, but he's not happy about this at all. He described it as a similar feeling to the way he felt about voting for Donald Trump in 2016. He thinks that the candidate - Roy Moore, in this case - has a lot of personal failings, as he thought of President Trump - Donald Trump.

In the end, though, Moore is the guy he sees as the person who reflects his values. He's going to cast votes in that direction. And foremost for him is the issue of abortion, which has really become a central issue in this debate. Doug Jones is a Democrat. He has a pro-choice policy platform, and even though he says he doesn't want to change the state's laws on abortion, that's not satisfying for Christian conservatives.

On the other side, though, you've got Democrats voting for Doug Jones, and they're not that psyched. I talked to one cabdriver. He could not even conjure up the name when I asked who he was voting for. He just said, I'm not voting for Roy Moore, I'm going to vote for the other guy.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is the problem when you're running against somebody who's getting such white-hot attention as Roy Moore has. The other guy becomes the issue. Let me just ask, though - you mentioned personal failings according to a Roy Moore voter - personal failings of Roy Moore. What are people feeling about the allegations against Moore, very briefly?

MARTIN: I mean, his supporters say there's just no evidence. They say they're still allegations, and they haven't been proven. If they were, that would maybe be a different story. They question the timing. This guy's had a long political career. Why are they only coming out now?

INSKEEP: OK. Rachel, thanks very much, appreciate it.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: And we're going to hear much more from Rachel Martin over the next couple of days from WBHM in Birmingham, Ala. And of course, whoever wins the race in Alabama is going to end up reporting for work at the United States Senate.

KELLY: Roy Moore has vowed that if he wins, he will back President Trump, despite some doubt about how reliable a vote he would be here in Washington. Senate Republicans do need his vote, but they are also wondering a lot of questions about the baggage he might bring.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us next.

Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So President Trump has not only endorsed Roy Moore, but even recorded a robocall urging voters to back him. How much is at stake for the president?

HORSLEY: Well, it depends on the time frame, Steve. In the short term, it's worth noting, whoever wins this race is not going to be seated until after the holidays. So in terms of the year-end push on the tax bill and spending bills, this doesn't matter. In the medium term, certainly, the president is looking forward to having another Republican vote on issues like welfare reform, entitlement spending.

And then there's the longer term, which is what this election could mean for the GOP brand. If Moore is the victor, you can certainly look for Democrats to try to make him the poster child for the GOP in 2018, not only over these recent allegations of sexual misconduct, but also some of the many controversial things Roy Moore has said and done in the past and the controversial things he is likely to do and say in the future.

INSKEEP: But what if Doug Jones wins and becomes that relative rarity, the red state Democrat in Congress?

HORSLEY: Yeah, Donald Trump has said that Doug Jones would be a puppet of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. With the exception of abortion, there actually hasn't been a whole lot of talk about, you know, traditional Senate political issues during this contest. But it does look as if Doug Jones would be a pretty traditional Democrat on issues like Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, immigration.

On trade, he is a free trader, which was a onetime Republican attitude, although it's not the Trump attitude. He might break from Schumer and Pelosi stylistically on some Second Amendment issues. We've seen that from other red-state Democrats. Another big question, though, as Mary Louise hints, is, you know, how reliable a vote would Roy Moore be for Republicans? Even though there has been this late push on his behalf, he owes very little allegiance to Mitch McConnell and the GOP.

INSKEEP: How awkward is it for President Trump that there are these allegations against Roy Moore, and a number of women who've accused President Trump in similar ways - somewhat similar ways in the past - have chosen this moment to come forward again?

HORSLEY: Yeah, the White House continues to sort of dismiss the charges against the president, although they're not as dismissive as he was during the campaign. Remember, back then, he threatened to sue his accusers. He did not. And in fact, one of them has sued him for defamation. But the White House continues to dispute the facts of what these women say. And more importantly, their argument is, look, voters knew about all these accusations last November, and they still elected Donald Trump president. So that, they say, should give him a sort of ballot-box absolution.

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Horsley - thank you very much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


INSKEEP: All right, we're still tracking the massive wildfires in Southern California.

KELLY: Yeah. The biggest blaze - that would be the Thomas Fire - has charred more than 231,000 acres. It's now about 20 percent contained, but firefighters are struggling still to keep it away from coastal towns.

INSKEEP: And KQED LA bureau chief Steven Cuevas joins us now from Southern California.

Good morning.

STEVEN CUEVAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's in danger now?

CUEVAS: Well, this thing continues to burn in the west - to the west up in the foothills above Santa Barbara County coastal towns like Carpinteria, Montecito and Santa Barbara itself. So the concern continues to be that any significant shift in winds could send flames back towards these communities. And right now, it's mainly being driven not so much by the winds, but by very thick, dry brush that in some areas, you know, has not burned in a century or longer.

INSKEEP: So we heard yesterday from our colleague Eric Westervelt about the scene in towns that have not yet been evacuated, and they're just watching the fires on the hillsides above town and waiting for the evacuation order. I gather you've been spending time with people who have had to evacuate. What's it like to go into one of these almost, like, refugee centers, and what do you hear?

CUEVAS: Well, I visited one in - on the campus of Cal State, San Bernardino - excuse me, Cal State Santa Barbara. A lot of people who were there came from some of these communities like Carpinteria. It's a good distance away, too. We're talking about 20 miles. And I spent some time with a couple of elderly women, one of whom was 92. She was pretty remarkable. She was still pretty spry. She could get around on her own with the help of a little walker.

They both left their homes in Carpinteria in the dark of night. It was about 3:30 in the morning when the flames really started coming into town. They're doing quite well. They're a bit shook-up, but I think they speak to the sort of hardy kind of nature of a lot of the people that live in these smaller coastal communities. This is not Malibu we're talking about. These are pretty, you know, scrappy little towns along the Pacific Ocean.

INSKEEP: Although you're talking about people who have to walk away from everything they own and not know if they're going to see any of it again.

CUEVAS: In some cases, for sure - the good thing in a town like Carpinteria is that so far, we've only seen a couple of structures lost, including one, perhaps two, homes. We don't have a full assessment of that yet. It's not like the damage we saw further to the west in the town of Ventura, which is also part of this, you know, monstrous fire complex.

INSKEEP: And that damage is more severe in what way?

CUEVAS: Far more homes got destroyed. We're talking hundreds - well over 600 in addition to many, many houses damaged. In addition, too, I might add, the one factor that's really bothering a lot of people is this thick, heavy smoke that's hanging (inaudible) the region.

INSKEEP: OK. Steven Cuevas, thank you very much, really appreciate it.

CUEVAS: Thanks, Steve. Good to talk to you.

INSKEEP: He's with KQED.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEROCHE SONG, "HANGOVER SQUARE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.