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Voters Will Decide Closely Watched Alabama Senate Race


There's a certain feeling you get when you're living in a state, and you realize your state - your home is the focus of national attention. Raises the stakes, doesn't it? And we can hear Alabama voters wrestling with that feeling as they choose a senator today. Republican Roy Moore is fighting off sexual abuse allegations while Democrat Doug Jones is challenging Moore in a deep-red state. Both campaigns have suggested their state's future is on the line. Our co-host Rachel Martin is in Birmingham, Ala., at our member station WBHM. Good morning, Rachel.


Hey there, Steve.

INSKEEP: How's each side getting its voters to turn out?

MARTIN: More of the same, really - I mean, go to what you know, right? So each campaign is going to their corners, reinforcing the message that they've been putting out there for weeks and months. They are taking every opportunity. In fact, last night, Roy Moore held an event - brought in the big guns. Former White House adviser, executive chairman of Breitbart Steve Bannon - who draws big crowds here - he was on stage with Moore. And he tried to cast this election in an existential way. Let's listen.


STEPHEN BANNON: This is greater than Judge Moore, right?


BANNON: It's even greater than the people of Alabama.


BANNON: I know one thing. Nobody can come down here and tell folks in Alabama what to do.



BANNON: The grit, the determination - you're the backbone of this nation. Nobody's going to come down here and tell you what to do.

INSKEEP: Just to be clear, Bannon went down there to tell them that no one can tell them what to do, right?

MARTIN: (Laughter) Yes.


MARTIN: Yes, excellent point. So Moore supporters are confident that they're going to win this vote by a sizable margin. Jones supporters, less confident - but they think their guy at least has a fighting chance, which is in and of itself a big deal because this is a very red state. Alabama hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992. So both camps trying to get their voters to the polls today. That means getting them excited about their choice.

INSKEEP: Is that hard?

MARTIN: Yeah, it is hard. I mean, a lot of Moore supporters are genuinely fired up. They see this vote in very stark terms. Some white evangelical Christians might bristle at the allegations of sexual abuse against Moore. In the end, they're going to vote for Moore because of his stance on social issues, like abortion. I met a woman named Kristen Hankey, outside a Christian bookstore outside Birmingham. And she was doing some Christmas shopping there. I asked her what she likes about Roy Moore.

KRISTEN HANKEY: I like for what he stands for - his Christian values. And I just can't vote for Doug Jones just cause of his beliefs in the things I don't believe in.

MARTIN: Abortion or something else?

HANKEY: Abortion.

MARTIN: Abortion?

HANKEY: Yes, strongly against.

MARTIN: Did the allegations against Roy Moore matter to you at all?

HANKEY: No, because he hasn't been proven guilty. You know, I mean, that would change if that was proven true. But these are just allegations. And nothing's been proven.

MARTIN: And we heard this again and again, Steve, from Moore's supporters. They think the allegations are disturbing. They question though why they're coming out now in this moment, when this is a man who's been in the public eye for a long time and has run in so many public positions. So it's really - for her, it's like an anti-Doug Jones vote really.

INSKEEP: Well, OK, anti-Doug Jones - there would have been a lot of anti-Doug Jones votes - maybe even more anti-Doug Jones votes ordinarily. But does he really have a chance here?

MARTIN: You know, it's closer than many people thought it would ever have been. It's unclear how much of that is because of Doug Jones himself and his platform or just whether or not this is an anti-Roy Moore movement. Jones has brought in some nationally high-profile Democrats in the last few days, among them New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. He was here. And I spoke with Senator Booker yesterday. He admitted that, before coming down here to Alabama, he did not think that Jones could pull this off.

CORY BOOKER: I was very discouraged before I went down there. I was listening to a lot of the national media - and the naysaying and the failure to connect in the black community. I went down there, and I was energized, excited. I saw that in the black community, the white community, there's a lot of folks. From Republicans for Doug Jones to African-American voters, there is a lot of energy. And I left Alabama feeling very confident that they're going to deliver.

MARTIN: For Alabama voters here though, it's a little more complicated. Jones has this record as a civil rights leader. He prosecuted the KKK members who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963. Some Democrats that we spoke with though says that Jones leans too much on that legacy. And he doesn't talk enough about the issues. And this is where Catrena Norris Carter comes in. She has made it her job to connect with Democratic voters on the issues, so they understand the stakes here. She runs a political organizing group focusing on the black vote. And we met up with her and a handful of others who were going door to door passing out voter information in a low-income black neighborhood in Birmingham.

CATRENA NORRIS CARTER: You going to vote tomorrow?


CARTER: Why not?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Because I ain't ever lived - I ain't lived here until I - I don't know. I just moved here, so I don't even know what's going on.

CARTER: Well, you - are you registered?


CARTER: Well, you got to go vote.


CARTER: Read over that. And think about it (laughter).

MARTIN: So who knows if that guy's going to show up today. Before Catrena and her team went out, I talked to them for a while, in a parking lot next to a Wendy's. And I asked them if they really think their guy in this election, Doug Jones, can win this thing. And you're gonna hear a man named Larry Thompson reply here first then Catrena.

You guys genuinely feel an energy about the Jones campaign?

LARRY THOMPSON: Yes, no doubt, no doubt, no doubt. We're not looking to - we're not even fearing. We know we're going win this. This is our time. We're seizing the moment. This is our moment. And we're not going falter for nothing. This is it.

CARTER: I'm not as confident as my counterparts are simply because I know a lot of our people are hopeless. A lot of them do feel disenfranchised from all of these issues. They're like, for five generations, we've been living in the same housing projects. Or, you know, none of us have graduated high school. Or none of us are college graduates. So it doesn't matter if it's a Republican or Democrat for us. So that's what we strive to go knock on doors and sit down and have some real conversations - that it really does matter. And your vote counts.

MARTIN: So there's Catrena. She is trying one door knock at a time to change minds. We're going to see if her efforts pay off today - or if Roy Moore is able to turn out his base and keep this Senate seat in Republican hands.

INSKEEP: OK, Rachel, thanks very much.

MARTIN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's MORNING EDITION co-host Rachel Martin, bringing really amazing Alabama voices to us throughout today's program. And she'll be with us again tomorrow when we learn the results. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.