BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Reuters) – Democrat Doug Jones won a bitter fight for a U.S. Senate seat in deeply conservative Alabama on Tuesday, U.S. media projected, dealing a political blow to President Donald Trump in a race marked by accusations of sexual misconduct against Republican candidate Roy Moore.
The stunning upset by Jones makes him the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama in a quarter-century and will trim the Republicans’ already narrow Senate majority to 51-49, endangering Trump’s agenda and opening the door for Democrats to possibly retake the chamber in next year’s congressional elections.
The ugly campaign drew national attention and split the Republican Party over accusations from several women that Moore pursued them when they were teens and he was in his 30s.
Trump endorsed Moore even as other party leaders in Washington walked away from him, but Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor, portrayed the campaign as a referendum on decency and promised the state’s voters he would not embarrass them in Washington.
Moore, 70, a Christian conservative who was removed from the state Supreme Court in Alabama twice for ignoring federal law, denied the sexual allegations and said he did not know any of the women who made them. Reuters has not independently verified the allegations.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell had called on Moore to drop out of the race, and other Senate leaders had suggested he should eventually be expelled from the Senate if elected.
Trump had recorded robo-calls to voters to bolster turnout for Moore, and held a campaign rally across the border in Florida last week. Trump’s former senior adviser, Steve Bannon, appeared at two rallies with Moore down the stretch.
“Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!” Trump said in a Twitter post in which he criticized Jones as a potential “puppet” of the Democratic congressional leadership.
Network exit polls, however, showed Trump was not a factor in the decision for about half of Alabama voters. A further 29 percent said they voted to express support for Trump, and 20 percent said they voted to oppose him.
In Gadsden, Alabama, Louis Loveman, 73, a retired librarian and self-described lifelong Republican, said he voted for Jones. “It’s simple,” he said. “I don’t trust Roy Moore.”
“There are too many allegations floating out there for there not to be fire behind all that smoke. I never voted for a Democrat before, but I did today,” Loveman said.
Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Mobile, Ala.; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney