Democrat Doug Jones won the special election to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat representing the southern state of Alabama, delivering what many see as a stunning setback to the Republican Party and a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump, who urgently endorsed embattled Republican candidate Roy Moore despite a chorus of sexual misconduct allegations.
After a contentious campaign, voters backed Jones over Moore by a margin of 49.9 percent to 48.4 percent.
The result means that in January when Jones is sworn in, the Republican majority in the 100-seat Senate will shrink to 51-49 and make it tougher for President Trump to enact his agenda.
“We have shown not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way, that we can be unified,” Jones told cheering supporters in a victory speech Tuesday night. He said the Senate has a lot of work to do on important issues facing the country, including health care, jobs and the economy.
Moore, at his own rally, did not concede the election to Jones.
“It’s not over. It’s going to take some time,” he said.
His campaign pointed to Alabama laws concerning recounts, including a provision that calls for an automatic recount of votes if the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percent.
Speaking to CNN, Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill said he would find it “highly unlikely” that Jones will not be declared the winner when the vote tally is certified in the coming week. He said there are “not a whole lot of mistakes that are made” during the initial vote-counting process.
Moore had the backing of Trump, but faced opposition from other Republican leaders. He has been accused of sexual misconduct in the 1970s when his female accusers were teenagers and he was in his 30s.
Moore has consistently denied the allegations, but he initially admitted dating young women when he was an attorney general, before denying ever knowing any of his accusers.
Some Republicans, including Alabama’s other senator, Richard Shelby, opted to use write-in votes rather than support Moore. The number of total write-ins was about the same as the margin of victory for Jones.
Trump used Twitter to congratulate Jones while looking ahead to the next election for the Senate seat in 2020.
“The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time,” Trump wrote.
Jones is the first Democrat from Alabama to win a Senate seat since 1992 and will serve out the roughly three years remaining in the term Jeff Sessions won in 2014 before stepping down to serve as Trump’s attorney general.
Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs, told VOA that with the demographics of Alabama it is more likely than not that whoever challenges Jones in the 2020 race will win.
She said overall with Jones in the Senate she thinks there will be a slowdown in the Republicans’ legislative agenda, but with a major push already ongoing on tax reform in Congress, Republicans will do their best to finish that work before breaking for a holiday recess at the end of this month.
“Certainly now that the majority has shrunk by one seat and now they only have a one-seat margin, it will be more likely than not the Republicans will try to expedite the process,” she said.
Cafaro added that the controversies surrounding Moore, including his history of statements regarding the LGBT, Muslim and Jewish communities, as well as the recent rise in visibility and consequences surrounding high-profile sexual assault cases in the United States, made a difference in Tuesday’s result.
Jones, who said he was “overwhelmed” by the victory, did not specifically reference Moore in his victory speech, but did allude to some of the same themes.
“This entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state regardless of which zip code you live in is going to get a fair shake in life,” he said.
Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican who has announced he will not be running for re-election in his state of Arizona, posted on Twitter last week a picture of a campaign donation he was making to Jones. He followed that Tuesday night with a post that said, “Decency wins.”
Democratic Senator Cory Booker campaigned alongside Jones and said Alabama “gave the whole country a needed renewal of hope and the first ray of light of a rising sun and a coming new day.”