MR. COSTA: To help explain this wild race, I’m joined by Michael Scherer from The Washington Post newsroom. Michael, you’ve made three reporting trips to Alabama in the last two months. And when you’re on the ground there, what are voters saying in this closing chapter? What do they make of Judge Moore and his defiance in this closing stretch?
MICHAEL SCHERER: It’s really a divided electorate, and the most interesting segment of it is the one that’s really struggling with these allegations. A lot of people find them very credible. They’re Republican voters in a Republican state. They don’t want to send a Democrat to Washington. They are pro-life, Doug Jones is pro-choice. And yet, they feel torn because they have these political interests and then – and then they see the allegations, and they’re trying to weigh these two different things. And that’s really what will decide this election down the stretch, you know, people who maybe are not diehard Republicans, they’re not diehard white Evangelical voters who remain very much with Roy Moore, but are Republicans in the state who feel uneasy about electing Moore and may vote against their own party.
MR. COSTA: We saw in the Virginia elections in November that the suburban voters are the key voters. Is that the same situation down in Alabama? The people in the suburbs of Birmingham and Mobile, are they the people who will sway this race?
MR. SCHERER: And Huntsville as well. Yeah, I think they are, and I would add to that women voters. You know, women voters have taken these allegations far more seriously in polls than men, and they tend to be breaking off at a higher rate. So I think that’s the other group.
You know, the other thing you have to look at is the African-American turnout. A significant portion of Democratic voters in that state are black. If they don’t turn out for Doug Jones, that could decide this race as well.
And then the last target group to look at is whether there’s a group of Republicans who will never be able to vote for Jones because of his, you know, abortion views and other views, but who choose to stay home; people, you know, Roy Moore otherwise would have gotten to the polls who he just doesn’t get to the polls because they’re sitting out this race because of the allegations.
MR. COSTA: You mentioned Huntsville. And if you think about Alabama right now in 2017, you have a business community there that’s thriving. They’re trying to bring big business into the state. And it makes me wonder, how much of this race is about something more than Roy Moore versus Doug Jones? Is it about the identity of Alabama as a state?
MR. SCHERER: I think it is. You know, the biggest booming business in Alabama right now is federal contracting. NASA has big plants down there. The Defense Department does a lot of work down there. A lot of U.S. missiles are developed around the Huntsville area. You know, this – there is a growing kind of cosmopolitan, metropolitan, corporate workforce, highly educated, that would very much like to see Alabama escape its reputation of the past. And Roy Moore is nothing if not a return to that, you know, biblically orthodox version of, you know, states-rights, Alabama-pride past. And so I think that’s another thing that’s being discussed here. Doug Jones’ campaign has very much run on this idea that Alabama can turn the page on its own past, can go forward, you know, into the future with a – with a more gentle, more – less combative approach to politics, to working with the rest of the country. And that is one of the things that’s on the ballot.
MR. COSTA: What about this battlefront in the Republican civil war? You have Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist to President Trump. He’ll be down there next week for a rally with Judge Moore. And you have Mitch McConnell, the majority leader; he’s really wary of Judge Moore. And this seems to be the latest front of that unending, it seems, battle between those forces in the Republican Party.
MR. SCHERER: Yeah. And like many of these battles, it’s a particularly ugly one. You know, the other factor here is that President Trump now, we found out, is going to be going down to hold a rally next week in Florida, but on the Panhandle, on the border with Alabama, so he’ll get coverage in Alabama without actually going to Alabama. And the fact that he’s sort of sided in the last couple weeks with Moore, not by re-endorsing Moore but by saying we can’t have a Democrat like Doug Jones in the Senate, suggests that in that battle, where the party is very divided here, you know, the president doesn’t want to once again find himself on the wrong side of his own base, and is taking a more cautious approach.
I think if Moore wins this race and comes to Washington, it is going to be fascinating to watch how he tangles with McConnell. To this day, you know, Moore’s biggest enemy on the – on the stump are not Democrats, it’s not, you know, the national media or, you know, Northerners generally, it’s specifically Mitch McConnell. That’s the person he’s running against as a Republican in Alabama. And when he comes to the Senate, Mitch McConnell will be his number one enemy.
MR. COSTA: McConnell may be his number one enemy if he’s elected, if Judge Moore wins the seat. But explain to me this, Michael, because there’s an interesting dynamic here. You have McConnell. When I’m walking around the Capitol this week talking to Republican senators, they’re very skittish about Judge Moore. Then when you’re down in Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, she’s sticking with Judge Moore. Alabama Republicans, including establishment Republicans on the ground, are sticking with him. Why is that?
MR. SCHERER: The only statewide elected Republican to break with – and the only statewide elected official, because they’re all Republicans in Alabama – to break with Moore is Richard Shelby, the senior senator, and I think the reason is one of just job protection. You have a Republican Party there where 25, 30 percent of the state – so almost half the Republican base vote – is going to be with Roy Moore no matter what. And if you want to get elected in Alabama, you know, whatever you think of this race and whether Jones should win or Moore should win, you can’t alienate Judge Moore’s base. And so someone like Kay Ivey, who’s going to be up for reelection next year as governor, doesn’t want to position herself so that she has thrown the candidate of, you know, a significant portion of her electorate under the bus, and it’s put her in a very awkward position. Her official position right now is I have no reason to doubt the accusers against Roy Moore, and yet it’s very important for us to have a Republican in the Senate, and so I’m voting for Roy Moore. It’s a very tricky argument to be making, both to give credence to what are pretty horrific allegations against the judge and on the other hand saying I’m going to be voting for the judge.
MR. COSTA: Where are the Democrats on all this? I was talking to Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia this week, a moderate Democrat from a Southern state, and he said if I was Doug Jones I wouldn’t want the national Democratic Party getting involved. But there has to be some debate within Democratic ranks about that. Should they be putting more money, more of an effort into picking up a Senate seat in the Deep South?
MR. SCHERER: I think they are putting a lot of money in, and they’re trying to do it very quietly. Doug Jones has gotten a flood of money. He’s outraising Roy Moore by five to one, I think, over the last month. And there’s an outside group called Highway 31, which was set up so – in a way where it’s not going to disclose its donors until after the election. They’ve spent $2 million already, which is a lot of money – it’s more than twice what Roy Moore has spent on his own race – in ads praising Jones and attacking Moore. Those are big checks, probably, from probably national Democrats. We don’t know for sure. But they’ve structured it – the Democratic Party is very sensitive to the idea that they don’t want to be seen by Alabamians meddling in Alabama politics, so they’re trying to do it very quietly, and so they’re doing it through groups with very Alabama names like Highway 31.
MR. COSTA: Whatever happens on December 12th, you can be sure Democrats and Republicans are going to do a lot of thinking about how this race played out, did they do enough, did they do the right thing politically. Michael Scherer, I feel like you’re going to have a ZIP code soon in Alabama you’ve been down there so often. Thank you so much for joining us.
MR. SCHERER: Thank you, Bob.