As Republican candidate Roy Moore’s sins come to light, the most hotly contested Alabama Senate race in recent memory has political figures on all sides scrambling to make the most of the situation.
In one of the most conservative states in the country, Republicans find themselves surprisingly vulnerable to Democratic victory. Moore has been accused by five women of sexual misconduct with them when they were teenagers, and stories continue to emerge about his time as a judge in Etowah county, where his “penchant for flirting with teen girls was ‘common knowledge.’” While he has called the allegations “false and untrue” and even threatened to sue news outlets that publish them, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and other prominent Republicans have said they believe the women and that Moore should “step aside.”
The Republican National Committee joined the National Republican Senatorial Committee and pulled its funding from Roy Moore, distancing themselves from the controversial candidate. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) went one step further, throwing his support behind Moore’s opponent, Doug Jones, a move advocated the day before by our publication. Even Sean Hannity is having second thoughts about the former judge, calling Moore’s explanations “inconsistent” and demanding further clarification.
Republican leaders are reportedly weighing a range of options, but they are severely constrained by time. The two most likely, a write-in campaign or expulsion, are far from perfect, and have significant drawbacks.
The natural choice for write-in candidate would be Sen. Luther Strange, the current office holder and a McConnell ally. However, Strange is tainted by his close association with McConnell, and his political brand is damaged after a brutal primary with Moore back in September. McConnell is also considering Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the previous owner of the seat. Sessions still has immensely strong support from Alabama conservatives, but is a controversial figure in his own right.
Regardless of the candidate, Republicans are wary that a write-in campaign would split the vote. Moore has a solid base that will vote for him no matter what, and an outside candidate would have to build and run a statewide campaign in less than a month; a daunting task for even the best of political operatives. Anything less than perfect execution could hand the open seat to Doug Jones and the Democrats, narrowing an already slim majority in the Senate. In this situation, Session’s experience and name recognition could be a major boon.
Shifting Sessions out of the Executive Branch could help McConnell in other ways too. An empty position at the top of the Justice Department would be almost impossible for Trump to fill without the support from the Republican establishment, meaning that the next AG would need to be another McConnell ally to get confirmed.
This is not the only way to get Sessions, or a more traditional Republican, back into the Senate. Leaders on the right are so aghast at the prospect of Moore joining their ranks that they are discussing expelling him as soon as he arrives in DC, should he win. Expulsion is difficult – it hasn’t been done in more than a century – but possible. There are serious downsides to this move as well. It subverts the will of the people, and has the potential to escalate the already troublesome civil war within the GOP. However, this option offers the possibility of keeping Alabama red, since the governor can appoint a replacement senator in the event of Moore’s expulsion.
With less than a month left to solve their candidate issues, Republicans in Alabama are working overtime to avoid ending this calamitous campaign with the painful loss of a conservative stronghold.