BIRMINGHAM — With a week to go until Election Day, Senate candidate Doug Jones bashed his Republican opponent before a friendly crowd of about 100 Democrats in Birmingham.
"Roy Moore has never, ever served our state with honor," Jones said in a speech at Pepper Place in the city's downtown. "He has never, ever been a source of pride for this state. Only a source of embarrassment."
Jones faces Moore, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, in the Dec. 12 election for the Senate seat once held by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It's the closest and most-watched Alabama Senate race in decades.
That's largely due to the ongoing controversy about Moore, an outspoken religious conservative who was twice relieved of his duties as chief justice — once for ignoring a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument, and later for defying the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage. The race was already making nationwide headlines before Nov. 9, when The Washington Post published the accounts of four women who said Moore pursued them romantically when they were teens and he was in his 30s. Since then, five more women have come forward with similar accounts. One of the women alleged she was 14 when Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her; another said she was 16 when Moore sexually assaulted her.
President Donald Trump offered a full-throated endorsement of Senate candidate Roy Moore on Monday, the latest sign that the Republican establishment is getting over its discomfort with its party’s choice.
Moore has denied the allegations, characterizing them as an election ploy by Democrats, establishment Republicans and the media. The nation's media has followed Moore's every move for a month — coverage that has made the allegations against Moore common knowledge, but that also threatens to push Jones completely off the screen.
The Democrat's Tuesday speech appeared to be an attempt to bring the conversation back to his campaign. A former U.S. attorney, Jones opened the speech with a mention of his prosecution of abortion clinic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph and the cold case against Klansmen who otherwise would have escaped punishment for the 1960s bombing that killed four black girls in a Birmingham church.
"It's never too late for the truth to be told," he said. "It's never too late for a man to be held accountable for his crimes."
Jones discussing his role prosecuting Klansmen for the Birmingham church bombing. pic.twitter.com/TwOu5mrcGZ— Tim Lockette (@TLockette_Star) December 5, 2017
He quickly pivoted to Moore. Even before the allegations against the Republican emerged, Jones said, Moore had proven himself unable to work with others and unable to solve problems like the congressional impasse over the Children's Health Insurance Program. Once popular among lawmakers, the program provides health insurance for children in low- and moderate-income families, but it's been unfunded since October because Congress hasn't approved funding for this fiscal year. Jones often mentions CHIP on the campaign trail; Moore hasn't taken a clear position on it.
Jones then turned to the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, saying that voters should view the allegations as parents and grandparents, not through a jaded political lens. A vote for Moore, he said, would tell girls their stories of abuse will not be believed and would tell boys they can abuse with impunity if they're powerful enough.
"I damn sure believe I have done my part to make sure that men who hurt little girls should go to jail and not the United States Senate," he said.
Moore dipped in the polls after the allegations against him surfaced, but in recent polls he seems to have bounced back. GOP leaders who once stayed quiet or denounced Moore seem to be sidling back up to their candidate. President Donald Trump offered his first clear endorsement of Moore on Monday, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to back away from a threat to attempt to eject Moore from the Senate if elected.
Republicans' appeals to voters in the last week have hammered home the partisan consequences of a potential Jones victory. Republican mail-out ads depicted Jones as soft on gun rights and a proponent of abortion. Jones challenged the gun rights allegation in his Tuesday speech, saying he's a gun owner who hunts regularly.
"When you see me with a gun, folks, I'll be climbing in and out of a deer stand or a turkey blind, not prancing around on a stage in a cowboy suit," he said.
Moore donned a cowboy hat and brandished a pistol in a campaign appearance during the Republican runoff.
Attempts to reach the Moore campaign for comment weren't immediately successful. Moore is expected to make an appearance with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon later today.
Jones didn't take questions from the press after his speech. He held the speech, before a row of flags, in a small venue, with little publicity before the event. Members of the crowd, mostly Birmingham Democrats, said they got word of the event through emails from the campaign.
Banking consultant Steven Rider, one of the people in the crowd, said the speech accomplished what Jones needed to accomplish: furnishing fence-sitting Republicans with reasons to vote for Jones instead of Moore. He said Jones could make Alabama more powerful by acting as a moderate in a deadlocked Congress.
"One of the under-told stories of this campaign is the power is how much clout a centrist vote holds in the Senate," he said.