The sexual abuse allegations against U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore haven’t changed one thing in Steve Guede’s plan to mobilize local workers for the Moore campaign.
“It’s actually increased our calls about volunteering,” Guede said on Friday.
Guede is the Calhoun County coordinator for the campaign to elect Moore, a former judge and social conservative icon, to the U.S. Senate in a Dec. 12 special election. Moore will face Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor, in that contest.
Moore’s campaign hit a major roadblock on Thursday, when The Washington Post published a story in which four women, all current or former Etowah County residents, alleged that Moore pursued them romantically when they were in their teens and Moore was in his 30s. All the incidents occurred in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
One of the women, Leigh Corfman, told The Post she was 14 and Moore was 32 in 1979 when Moore initiated an encounter with her at his home in which he took his clothes off, undressed her and touched her through her underwear. The age of consent in Alabama is 16.
Moore has denied the claims, his campaign calling them “fake news” and “intentional defamation.”
The news came as local volunteers for both campaigns were gearing up for a Veterans Day weekend of campaigning. Both were planning door-to-door canvassing. Both were organizing phone banks. Both were recruiting marchers for Anniston’s Veterans Day parade, a momentary truce in what has sometimes been an acrimonious campaign.
“It’s not part of the campaign,” Calhoun County Democratic Party chairwoman Sheila Gilbert said Thursday morning. “This is just to show that Democrats support veterans.”
“Everybody needs to support veterans, no matter what party you’re in,” Calhoun County Republican Party chairman James Bennett said.
The day after the news broke, though, the differences in the two parties’ views were clearer than ever.
Where the ducks are
“I don’t think anybody believes that four weeks before the election, something like this can just pop up,” said Guede. Like other local Republicans who spoke to The Star after the Post story published, Guede said he didn’t trust The Post’s reporting.
He claimed consternation over the coverage would actually increase involvement in the campaign.
Democrats were also seeing a “surge” in their volunteer efforts, Gilbert said via text on Friday.
That could mean both parties will double down on a belief that the race will be decided by the amount of passion among the faithful – rather than by appeals to a shrinking middle of swingable voters.
“You have to hunt where the ducks are,” said Lori Owens, a political science professor at Jacksonville State University.
Owens noted that turnout in the primary and Republican runoff was less than 20 percent. With only one race on the ballot in a vote held during the holiday season, she said, turnout in December is likely to be low, too. That enables both parties to potentially sway the vote with little more than their base, though the stakes are higher for the Democrats.
“The Democrats have to get their entire base out, and maybe some undecideds,” she said.
Gilbert said Democrats are turning their volunteers toward targeted areas, where they can urge likely Democratic voters to get to the polls.
“You don’t go to just every neighborhood,” she said. “There’s a plan. We’re going to places where there are strong voters, recurring voters.”
Democrats are also engaging in phonebanking events when volunteers call would-be voters selected from a party database, asking them for donations, support and a vote on Dec. 12. Gilbert cites last week’s Anniston visit by Doug Jones, which brought about 125 people to Classic Too on Noble, as an example that the strategy works. She said she talked to supporters from as far away as Mentone, who said they’d show up for the event – on a Tuesday during work hours – and did.
Guede said he doesn’t do the same sort of targeting.
“I don’t use a program,” said Guede, who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2014. “When I ran for office, I didn’t use a program, and I don’t use one now.”
Guede said he asks volunteers to start in their own neighborhoods, knocking on doors and talking to people about the race. The Republican phonebanking effort, he said, is more targeted, with lists that come from the state party.
In at least one neighboring county, there’s no Republican canvassing or calling effort at all. Asked on Friday if the Moore allegations changed his campaign strategy, Cherokee County Republican Party chairman Josh Summerford said there was nothing to change.
If 2016’s vote for Donald Trump is any indication, Republicans may not need targeting to win, and Democrats may face an uphill battle no matter how precise their aim.
Cherokee County went 83 percent for Trump in 2016, and with about 10,000 votes cast there, the rural county may not be a rich prize for either party. In more-populous Calhoun County, seven in 10 voters cast a ballot for Trump.
Democrats tried to use data to win elections here in the past. In 2014, Democratic groups announced plans to target a handful of House and Senate districts where Republicans seemed weak. It didn’t help them break the GOP supermajority in both houses.
Both parties, locally, acknowledge they engage in some campaign practices that are traditional, but not necessarily proven to work. Campaign signs are popular despite a lack of evidence that they sway undecided voters at all. Democrats plan to spend much of November holding up signs in Bynum outside Anniston Army Depot during shift changes.
It’s not because there’s data showing them federal employees will be easier to reach, Gilbert said.
“It’s the biggest employer in town,” she said. “We’re going where people can see us.”