A familiar name tops early polling for the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Alabama: Roy Moore, the former prosecutor and one-time chief justice of the state Supreme Court, who was defeated for the same office in a special election in 2017. According to results published on Tuesday by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, 27 percent of Alabama Republicans would vote for Moore were the GOP primary held today — the highest rate of any potential candidate. (The runner-up, Mo Brooks, sits at 18 percent, with 25 percent of respondents undecided.)
There is little to recommend Moore as either a political candidate or as a person. He surrendered one of Alabama’s two solidly red U.S. Senate seats to a Democrat, Doug Jones, for the first time since 1992. His top donor is a neo-Confederate; he was a leading voice in the “birther” movement aimed at discrediting Barack Obama by claiming that he was born in Kenya; he once compared Keith Ellison swearing in to Congress on the Qu’ran to a hypothetical official in 1943 swearing in on Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler; and he has blamed America’s purportedly permissive attitude toward abortion and anal sex — in alleged defiance of God’s will — for violent tragedies ranging from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to mass shootings.
Perhaps the best-known fact about Moore, though, is that he is an accused child predator. At least four women have alleged that he pursued them for sexual relationships when they were between the ages of 14 and 17 and he was in his 30s. (The age of consent in Alabama, then and now, is 16.) Three claimed that he kissed them. One said that Moore touched her through her bra and underpants and guided her hand to touch his erect penis. She was 14. Another, who was 15 at the time, said that he sexually assaulted her in the back of a car, groping her breasts and locking the doors when she tried to escape. Four other women have alleged that Moore assaulted them when they were 18 or older.
Despite these allegations — which Moore denies — the Republican lost the 2017 election by less than two points. His success relative to his deficiencies is attributable to the overwhelming support of white Alabama voters, who backed him at a rate of 68 percent. (Roughly the same share of white voters in the state are registered Republicans; 96 percent of black voters, on the other hand, backed Moore’s opponent, now-Senator Jones, effectively handing him the election.) President Trump endorsed Moore in the general, after his preferred candidate, Luther Strange, lost the GOP primary, while the Republican National Committee buttressed his campaign financially. All told, the racial chasm that marked Moore’s near-victory is unavoidable. Had most white Alabamians and national Republicans had their way, an unhinged zealot, conspiracist, and alleged child molester would be casting votes in the Senate today.
It is hard to fathom being black in Alabama and witnessing this unfold. The history of the franchise in the state is defined largely by the struggles that black people have waged to secure it for themselves, most famously during the civil-rights era. They pursued these efforts, certainly, to enforce the laws and proclamations that had promised, but never fully realized, their citizenship and its attendant rights. But in more specific and practical terms, they also did so to thwart white efforts to send violent segregationists and reprobates to Alabama’s local governments, sheriff’s departments, state capitol, or to Capitol Hill to represent them nationally.
These struggles were often bloody. Black-led civil-rights activities were met by violent and sometimes fatal attacks, claiming as casualties black and white activists alike. Reverend James Reeb, Viola Liuzzo, and Jonathan Daniels were three white Northerners who were killed while assisting voting-rights efforts in Selma, on the Selma Highway, and in Hayneville, respectively. Jimmie Lee Jackson, a 26-year-old black man, was beaten and shot by white state troopers in 1965 in Marion while protecting his grandmother and grandfather – who were protesting for their right to vote — from the troopers’ violent crackdowns. A man serving in Congress today, Representative John Lewis of Georgia’s Fifth District, was tear-gassed and beaten by state troopers the following month while attempting to march, with hundreds of others, from Selma to Montgomery to demand black voting rights. His skull was fractured in the process. All were brutalized or killed under the watchful eye of Governor George Wallace, a staunch defender of Jim Crow who proclaimed infamously in his 1963 inaugural address, “[Segregation] now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever,” and six months later stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama’s Foster Auditorium to block two black students — Vivian Malone and James Hood — from enrolling in the school.
It cannot have shocked black Alabamians that half a century later, so many of their white counterparts would still be trying to vote amoral bigots into positions of political power. But predictability cannot dull its sting. The partisan zealotry that allowed Republican voters to overlook at best, or at worst, endorse Moore’s conduct in the name of keeping Alabama red in 2017 will always be a national stain. But that enough are willing to try again two years later — and at high enough rates to give Moore an early polling edge — sours whatever sense of victory Jones’s election might have elicited. The Democrat is vulnerable, as evidenced by the same pollster showing that just 40 percent of respondents would back his reelection. Whoever the Republican nominee ends up being seems an odds-on favorite to win Jones’s seat. It does not have to be Moore, and time will tell whether his lead holds. But either way, the Alabamians seeking to move their state forward deserve better.