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For many Alabama voters, Roy Moore is still the ‘lesser of two evils’

DOUBLE SPRINGS, Ala. — Roy Moore’s controversial Senate campaign scared away many Republicans in Washington. Even Richard Shelby, the state’s senior senator, said Sunday that “the state of Alabama deserves better” than electing Moore to the U.S. Senate.

But in Alabama, Republican voters view the race, and the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, very differently. For many conservatives, the choice between Moore and his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, is no choice at all. Jones was simply never an option.

“There are moral absolutes for me,” said Cindy Pugh, a Republican who voted for Moore on Tuesday. Pugh said she could never vote for a candidate who supports abortion. “I feel more comfortable with my future in the hands of a Republican, no matter how bad he is.”

Tracy Rye, the vice-president of a bank in Haleyville, said he never considered voting for Jones, a former U.S. attorney who has campaigned as a moderate Democrat. Jones surged in the polls after several women accused Moore of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers and the former state judge was in his 30s.

“Abortion is the issue that drives folks in this area,” Rye said of Winston County, a rural, deeply religious corner of Alabama, roughly an hour northwest of Birmingham. President Donald Trump won Winston with 90 percent of the vote in 2016, his highest margin of any county in the state.

“This is Republican country, and we vote Republican,” Rye said. Moore’s alleged misconduct in the past pales in comparison to Jones’ views on abortion, he added. “I can forgive one thing a whole lot easier, I guess.”

Many Republicans on Tuesday insisted they weren’t single-issue voters. But in interview after interview, GOP voters said their opposition to abortion and gay marriage outweighed their discomfort with sending someone accused of molesting children to Congress.

Moore rose to prominence in the state as an outspoken social conservative. As a state judge, he was twice kicked off the bench for installing a plaque and then a monument to the Ten Commandments in the state Supreme Court building.

“The stand that he takes, to me, is more important than the man himself,” said Steve Tidwell, a minister and the co-owner of a furniture store in Double Springs.

Tidwell said he wasn’t sure what to make of the allegations. Moore has repeatedly denied them, and Tidwell said he considered Moore guilty until proven innocent. “If Judge Moore is guilty of something, that’s between him and his God. He’ll have to answer to him,” Tidwell said.

Like many Republican voters, Tidwell said his Christian faith compelled him to view Moore’s past with forgiveness, whatever Moore may or may not have done. “I believe in giving people second chances. We all mess up.”

Pugh said her outlook on Moore was rooted in a reading of the bible. “The bible tells me not to judge. So I can’t judge him anymore than I want him to judge me,” Pugh said.

Still, the impulse not to judge Moore came easier to some supporters than others.

Steton Hayes, a pastor who has a teenage son and a 3-year-old daughter, said he took Moore’s allegations seriously, though he wasn’t sure if they were true or not. “I don’t make light of them. If it was my daughter, I’d wig out.”

But in the end, Hayes said, he felt “forced to weigh it out and pick the lesser of two evils.” For that reason, he added, “We aren’t looking at Roy Moore’s past.”

Other Republicans said their decision to back Moore had as much to do with party loyalty as anything else.

Loyalty to the Republican Party runs deep in Alabama, a state Trump carried by 28 points in last year’s presidential election. Trump endorsed Moore on Dec. 4 and repeated his support emphatically in subsequent tweets, a recorded robo-call to Alabama voters and a rally in Pensacola, Florida.

Shelby was elected as a Democrat in 1986 but later switched to the Republican Party, and the state hasn’t had a Democratic senator since. The winner of today’s special election will fill the seat formerly held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a conservative voice on immigration and other issues.

Political experts in Alabama said they were surprised Jones had made it such a close race, even with the cloud hanging over Moore’s campaign.

“It almost doesn’t matter to some people what Roy Moore did. They aren’t going to vote for a Democrat, and they aren’t going to necessarily believe allegations against him,” said Cynthia Bowling, the chair of the political science department at Auburn University.

Faith plays a central role in conservative voters’ views on politics across the entire South, not just in Alabama, Bowling added. For many voters, the election is a choice between someone “who might be a pedophile, or someone who endorses abortion. That’s how a lot of [voters] think about this election.”

Jackie Roberts, a retired truck driver, said he was a Democrat earlier in life, but abandoned the party years ago over his concern that it had veered too far to the left.

As for Moore, Roberts said he didn’t believe the allegations. Choosing him over Jones was easy, he said, after leaving the polling location in Haleyville. “I believe in him, and I don’t believe the stories.”

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