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Alabama's Special Election Is Now Up To The Voters


And with our colleague Rachel Martin, who's reporting from Birmingham today. Rachel, good morning. I hope the coffee is strong and plentiful there in Alabama for you.


Coffee is flowing, for sure. It is Election Day. It's a big day here in Alabama. Voters are going to the polls in a special election to pick their next U.S. senator, and the choice, Mary Louise, is between the Republican, Roy Moore, and the Democrat in this race, Doug Jones. And leading up to this day, the race was very close. The polls were neck and neck, which is significant because this is a very red state, so the fact that the Democrat, Doug Jones, actually has a chance to win is a big deal. Alabama hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992.

KELLY: Now, I know this may be hard to answer, but how much of the fact that Jones seems to have a shot at this, how much of that has to do with the sexual harassment allegations against his opponent, Roy Moore?

MARTIN: I think we can say that it is a big part of it. Jones has tried to capitalize on this. He's tried to make this election about Roy Moore's personal character. It is personal, though, on the other side, too, because Moore is tapping into the issue that rallies his base almost like nothing else. We're talking about abortion. His base is made up of white, conservative, evangelical Christians, like a woman I met named Shana Swan (ph). Here's Shana and her daughter, Anderson (ph), talking about how they see this vote.

SHANA SWAN: Ask my third-grader who we're voting for.

ANDERSON: Roy Moore because Doug Jones doesn't agree with the stuff we agree with.

SWAN: Like, what's the main issue that we disagree with him about?

ANDERSON: What is it, Mom?

SWAN: You just learned about it this morning, unfortunately.

ANDERSON: Something with an A.

SWAN: It starts with an A. What does it mean?

ANDERSON: That if somebody doesn't want their baby, the doctor can kill the baby before he's even born.

SWAN: And how did you feel when you found out about that?


SWAN: Shocked. She couldn't believe that there is a law that you can kill your baby. And that was all we needed to know about him. He does not align with how we vote.

KELLY: You know, I'm listening to that, Rachel, and thinking, among other things, we have heard so much about the personalities in this race, so much of the politics in this race. We've heard less about about the issues, things like abortion that are really important to voters in Alabama and their kids as we just heard.

MARTIN: Right. And so this issue, abortion, is central to how conservative, white Christians are viewing this whole thing. We talked a lot about this with a man we met named Patrick Cooper. He's a pastor at the Oasis of Praise Church in Mcalla, Ala. This is a rural suburb outside Birmingham. A little side note here - as if this race weren't already loaded with a lot of bizarre political moments, the church is located on Pocahontas Road.

KELLY: Oh, boy.

MARTIN: Now, we talked with Patrick inside his church sanctuary, which was all decked out for Christmas.

PATRICK COOPER: We're in the Bible Belt. Everybody's a Christian around here, whether they really are or not. I did not grow up in church. And I went - at 14, I was invited to church by a girl, of course, you know.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

COOPER: And I got saved in a little Baptist church just right down the road here, and I was 14.

MARTIN: What do you remember about that?

COOPER: I remember I, you know, had the hat real low 'cause I was trying to - I was just there for the girl, just being honest. But I felt something moving in my heart, you know? I felt something tugging me. The youth pastor's name was Jason. He said, hey, if you feel something, if you feel like you need to accept whatever this is I'm offering, you know, come down to the front. And I got out of my seat and I walked down there and he prayed for me, and I prayed, you know, that Jesus would be Lord of my life, that he would take control. And he did.

Now, I was - I'm very opinionated, and I'm very hardheaded. And if you want to convince me of something, I need to see facts. I need to see - and so I'm even like that when it comes to the Bible. You know, if you want to tell me that, well, you know, the Bible says this, well, you know, show me. You know, don't just tell me.

MARTIN: So how does that desire, that craving for information and truth and fact-based evidence, how has that informed how you have watched this election?

COOPER: It has to an extent because there's no facts out there when it comes to these accusations. There's a lot of accusations.

MARTIN: You're talking about the sexual harassment, sexual abuse allegations against Roy Moore.

COOPER: Yeah. And some of the allegations are falling apart, you know, every hour it seems. But really - and I try to use my words properly, so I don't want this to seem like I am saying that sexual assault is OK by any means. I'm not. I'm a feminist, an old-school feminist. I'm not this new breed that thinks men should be less than women. I feel like that's where the movement's taken, but I believe in women's rights. And I think that women need to be respected. I think they need to be treated like queens. So I'm not for sexual assault. I want to lay that before I say what I'm going to say. But when I look at the two candidates that I feel - and I don't think you can vote third party in Alabama. I don't think it's an option.

MARTIN: So you see this as a binary choice...

COOPER: It has to be. It has to be.

MARTIN: ...Doug Jones or Roy Moore, and you're supporting...

COOPER: Roy Moore. And here's why. I have to make this choice off of what I do know, and what I do know is Doug Jones is in support of abortion. And that abortion issue is a big deal.

MARTIN: Although he has said he would not touch Alabama's state laws.

COOPER: You know, they say that, but he has a record of showing support of it. And I feel like - like, I know how things work. He's got a campaign manager that says, hey, we can gain some of these Republican vote, these conservative votes, these evangelical votes if you just kind of waver on this stance. And I have a strict biblical worldview. I believe life happens at the point of conception. And I think you either have to go all in with God, all in with what he says or don't. I don't think the middle of the ground helps anybody.

MARTIN: And it's that issue that is - got your vote.

COOPER: It is.

MARTIN: So you wouldn't support Doug Jones because he supports what you view as sinful policies.

COOPER: Well, it's not just sinful. Let me ask you this, OK? Take what we're discussing completely out of the picture. OK, I am going to present a case to you. Just based off what I say, give me your opinion. You have one guy who has been accused - accused - of sexual assault numerous times and then you have another guy that endorses the murder of millions of people. Which would you vote for?

MARTIN: That's how you see it.

COOPER: That's how I have to view it. And when put like that, I think every decent person - and I'm not saying everybody's got to believe like I do. This is not - like I said, I'm not trying to present something to you as an argument about abortion. I'm just saying this is the way most people see it down here and this is the way I see it.

MARTIN: Sounds like you don't love your choices either way.

COOPER: Oh, I hate it. I hate it. I'll cast my vote tomorrow, and I'll walk out there not feeling great. I'll feel a little dirty, the same way I did in November, just truthfully. We don't get the candidates that I think we deserve. And so Donald Trump...

MARTIN: Did you have to make a compromise by voting for Donald Trump?

COOPER: I did. I did. And like I said, I hate it. I hate it, but who else am I going to vote for?

MARTIN: Can I ask you - is there a reality in which you could go to the polls and say to yourself, or to God, to pray and say I don't like my choices here. These are not men who represent my Christian values, and so I'm not going to vote?

COOPER: My wife, she wanted to be here, but she couldn't be here. I think that's going to be her stance. I do. And I can't sit here and say you're wrong for not doing that because I can kind of see that. For me, a no vote for Roy Moore is a vote for Doug to me. And that's how I view it. Now, is that the only way to view it? No. Like I said, my wife - and she can make the decision she wants to and I can understand that decision. I do. I get when people say I'm just not going vote.

MARTIN: Let me close with a big-picture question. When you think about your state - you've got kids?

COOPER: Yes, I have a - yeah, I have a 5-year-old and a 7-month-old girl.

MARTIN: Yeah. So what kind of Alabama you want for your kids? Is Roy Moore the person who can lead your state into the future?

COOPER: No. But what option do I have?

MARTIN: So, Mary Louise, you heard Patrick Cooper describe how he sees his choice in those very controversial terms when talking about abortion. Doug Jones would disagree with how Cooper describes his positions. Jones is a Democrat. He has said he supports a woman's right to choose. Clearly, this whole issue demonstrates how personal this election has become.

KELLY: All right. That's our co-host, Rachel Martin, reporting all this morning from Alabama. She'll have a conversation later this morning with a supporter of Democrat Doug Jones. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.
Taylor Haney is a producer and director for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First.