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Verdict nears in Jones-Moore showdown

Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore raced to the finish line Tuesday in the most consequential special congressional election in years, which put one of Alabama’s Senate seats up for grabs for the first time in decades.

Moore’s campaign was rocked in November by accusations of sexual assault and other sexual misconduct, which gave Democrat Doug Jones a rare opening in a state President Donald Trump won by nearly 30 points in 2016. Public polls of the race have shown both Moore and Jones with leads, and Democrats have flooded Jones’ campaign with online donations to try and push him to a historic victory.

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Moore, meanwhile, lost support from Senate Republicans, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, after a number of women accused him of pursuing relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Moore should expect to face an immediate ethics investigation if he wins, while other senators — including NRSC chairman Cory Gardner — have said that the Senate should vote to expel Moore if he is elected. But President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee rejoined the race on Moore’s behalf in the final weeks, with the president saying repeatedly that he would not stand for Alabama electing a Democrat.

“The people of Alabama will do the right thing. Doug Jones is Pro-Abortion, weak on Crime, Military and Illegal Immigration, Bad for Gun Owners and Veterans and against the WALL,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “Jones is a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet. Roy Moore will always vote with us. VOTE ROY MOORE!”

Polls close at 7 p.m. Central (8 p.m. Eastern).

Despite the allegations, Moore has also retained a number of dedicated Republican followers. Jones is counting on the sizable African-American vote to boost his campaign while drawing in anti-Moore independents and Republicans, especially in the suburbs around Alabama’s biggest cities.

Turnout is expected to be unusually high for a special election, following an expensive campaign and over a month of saturation TV ads from Jones and his allies, which Moore was late to answer. African-American members of Congress flocked to Alabama in the last week of the race to help Jones energize the Democratic base.

“I certainly feel that there’s an organic energy and passion that’s been unseen in our Democratic Party for decades,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, a Jones supporter who is running for governor in 2018. “And ultimately, campaigns are won on momentum.”

Moore, meanwhile, rallied with former White House strategist Steve Bannon on election eve, where Moore’s wife prompted raised eyebrows by noting in defense of her husband that one of the Moores’ attorneys is Jewish. Democrats and Republicans supporting Jones hope that controversial comments like that will dissuade Alabamians from voting for Moore.

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Bannon and other Moore supporters have castigated Republican detractors of the GOP nominee in the final days of the race. “There’s a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better,” Bannon said — parroting Ivanka Trump’s comment that there “is a special place in hell for people who prey on children” when she was asked about Moore last month.

Even so, Sen. Richard Shelby — Alabama’s senior senator — went on national television Sunday to reiterate that he did not vote for Moore. Shelby, like McConnell and the NRSC, backed appointed Sen. Luther Strange in the Republican primary before switching allegiances when Moore won the nomination. But they rescinded their support after the first women made accusations against Moore, including one who alleged sexual contact when she was 14.

Doug Jones (right) is counting on the sizable African-American vote to boost his campaign while drawing in anti-Moore independents and Republicans, especially in the suburbs around Alabama’s biggest cities.

Doug Jones (right) is counting on the sizable African-American vote to boost his campaign while drawing in anti-Moore independents and Republicans, especially in the suburbs around Alabama’s biggest cities. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“I think so many accusations, so many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip, when it got to the 14-year-old story — that was enough for me. I said, I can’t vote for Roy Moore,” Shelby said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Shelby added: “The state of Alabama deserves better.”

Shelby voted for a write-in candidate, and the election results could come down to whether a large cohort of uncomfortable Republicans like him stay home, pick between Moore and Jones, or write in their own candidate on the ballot.

Eleanor May, a political strategist and native of Mountain Brook, the wealthy suburb of Birmingham, said suburban women in communities like hers will be the deciding factor in the election.

“The feeling is that a write-in really doesn’t do much, you have to pick one or the other,” May said.

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