BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump sought to boost Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore by releasing a recorded phone call on his behalf in the final stretch of a bitter Alabama election fight marked by accusations of sexual misconduct against Moore.
Moore, 70, a conservative Christian and former Alabama Supreme Court justice, will face off in Tuesday’s election against Democrat Doug Jones, 63, a former U.S. attorney.
On Monday, the eve of the election, the Moore campaign is rolling out a “robo-call” with Trump’s voice telling voters that if they do not support the Republican candidate, progress on his agenda will be “stopped cold.”
Democrats then decided to make robo-calls using two of their party’s own big guns – former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
The race has divided Trump’s Republican Party and given Democrats a rare opening in deeply conservative Alabama, which has sent only Republicans to the U.S. Senate for the past 20 years.
A Fox News Poll conducted on Thursday and released on Monday put Jones ahead of Moore, with Jones potentially taking 50 percent of the vote and Moore 40 percent. Fox said 8 percent of voters were undecided and 2 percent support another candidate.
Moore has maintained a low profile, refusing interview requests and holding few public events. He planned an election-eve rally with former White House strategist Steve Bannon, an executive at the right-wing Breitbart News site who has been one of Moore’s most ardent backers.
While Trump, who swept Alabama in the 2016 presidential election, backs Moore, many other national Republicans, such Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have distanced themselves after Moore was accused last month by several women of pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One woman accused him of trying to seduce her when she was 14.
Moore has denied any misconduct. Reuters has not independently verified any of the accusations.
The allegations have given new hope to Jones, who has touted a record that includes prosecuting former Ku Klux Klan members responsible for a 1963 bombing of a black church in which four girls were killed.
If Jones wins on Tuesday, Republicans would control the Senate by a slim 51-49 margin, giving Democrats much-needed momentum ahead of the November 2018 congressional elections, when control of both chambers of Congress will be at stake.
‘RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY’
Jones has spent the past week rallying African-Americans, the most reliably Democratic voters in the state, and hammering Moore in television ads.
He held a series of get-out-the-vote rallies across the state on Sunday.
”This campaign, ladies and gentlemen, is on the right side of history for the state of Alabama,” Jones told supporters in Birmingham on Sunday.
Moore got a formal endorsement last week from Trump, who also had to battle accusations of sexual harassment during his 2016 presidential race. Trump has denied the allegations.
Trump underscored his support for Moore at a rally on Friday night in Pensacola, Florida, near the Alabama state line, where he said Jones would be a “total puppet” of Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Moore’s campaign has cast Jones as a liberal out of step with Alabama voters, seizing on his support of abortion rights.
Many Republican officials in Alabama, including Governor Kay Ivey, say they will vote for Moore. But the state’s senior Republican senator, Richard Shelby, said he did not vote for Moore and instead backed a write-in candidate when he cast his absentee vote. “I think the women are believable,” Shelby told CNN on Sunday.
Moore, who was twice removed from the state Supreme Court for refusing to abide by federal law, may find a chilly reception in Washington if he wins. Republican Senator Tim Scott told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that the chamber would immediately subject Moore to an ethics investigation.
Democrats have signaled they may use Moore’s election to tar Republicans as insensitive to women’s concerns at a time when allegations of sexual harassment have caused many prominent men working in politics, entertainment, media and business to lose their jobs.
Allegations of sexual misconduct prompted the resignations last week of three lawmakers – Democratic Senator Al Franken, Democratic Representative John Conyers and Republican Representative Trent Franks.
Additional reporting by Zachary Goelman in Birmingham and Lisa Lambert and Lucia Mutikani in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott