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What Alabama voters are saying as they head to the polls

It was supposed to be a little-noticed race with no real competition. But as Alabama voters choose their next senator in a special election, the race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones has come down to the wire. John Yang reports and the NewsHour's Daniel Bush and Don Dailey of Alabama Public Television join Judy Woodruff from Birmingham.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All eyes are on Alabama today, as voters in the Southern state choose their next U.S. senator in a special election.

    It was originally expected to be a little-noticed race with no real competition.

    But, as John Yang reports, due to state politics and sexual misconduct claims, the contest between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones has come down to the wire.

  • John Yang:

    Embattled Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore saddled up today, going on horseback to vote at the fire station in Gallant, Alabama.

    Asked if he had a message for the multiple women who have accused him of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers, Moore replied, “Tell the truth.”

    He also had a message for Alabamians.

  • Roy Moore:

    Well, I think they out to go out and vote their conscience. And we have a tremendous turnout state. The nation is watching this.

  • John Yang:

    If Moore wins, Republican senators have promised he will face an ethics investigation.

  • Roy Moore:

    We will take those problems up when we get to the Senate, when we win.

  • John Yang:

    His opponent, Democrat Doug Jones, cast his ballot in a Birmingham suburb.

  • Doug Jones:

    This is an important time in Alabama’s history. And we feel very confident of where we are and how this is going to turn out, but, more important, we feel so good about what we have done and what we have said to the people of Alabama and to the people of the United States.

  • John Yang:

    Jones hoped to win the votes of Republicans who’ve drawn the line at the accusations against Moore.

  • Tracy James:

    I am being loyal at its most courageous by saying I hold my party to higher standards than Roy Moore.

  • John Yang:

    Some Moore supporters say they doubt his accusers.

  • Susie Leckness:

    These are allegations. And in America, I believe it still holds true that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

  • John Yang:

     Moore’s campaign remained controversial to the very end, his closing rally in Midland City. Former White House adviser Steve Bannon railed against Republicans who’d distanced themselves from Moore.

  • Steve Bannon:

    There’s a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • John Yang:

    That seemed aimed at Ivanka Trump, who has said there was a special place in hell for people who prey on children.

    Moore’s wife tried to put down accusations of anti-Semitism.

  • Kayla Moore:

    Fake news would tell you that we don’t care for Jews. I tell you all this because I have seen it all, so I just want to set the record straight while they’re here.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Kayla Moore:

    One of our attorneys is a Jew.

  • John Yang:

    The candidate himself made a final pitch.

  • Roy Moore:

    If you don’t believe in my character, don’t vote for me.

  • John Yang:

    At his own closing rally last night, Democrat Jones called on voters to choose the right path.

  • Doug Jones:

    And I think we’re going to see it tomorrow, that the majority of the people of Alabama say that it is time that we put our decency, our state before political party.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • John Yang:

    In recent days, some Alabamians answered their phones to hear the voice of President Trump.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Roy Moore is the guy we need to pass our make America great again agenda.

  • John Yang:

    Others heard a robo-call from President Barack Obama backing Jones. His message? “This one’s serious. You can’t sit it out.”

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to two people who have been on the ground today talking to Alabamians about this contest.

    Don Dailey is news director at Alabama Public Television. He’s covered the state for three decades. And the NewsHour’s own Daniel Bush, who has been reporting in Birmingham and some smaller cities that are farther to the north.

    It’s good to see both of you.

    Don Dailey, I’m going to start with you.

    You have been talking to voters today at different polling places. What are you seeing?

  • Don Dailey:

    I’m seeing a lot of enthusiasm.

    I think what was most noticeable to me today at the polling places that I visited was the turnout was noticeably larger than it has been in both the primary and the runoff elections. Both of those saw turnout below 20 percent. We have seen a lot of action at polls today.

    We have actually seen lines, and that’s something we didn’t see in the Republican runoff election, nor in the primaries. The secretary of state here is still sticking with his projection that we will see up to 25 percent. That would obviously be a significant improvement, but still rather low, considering all that’s perceived to be at stake in this election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Dan Bush, you were out, as we said, also talking to voters around the state, specifically looking for Republicans who had supported President Trump. What were you hearing from them?

  • Daniel Bush:

    That’s right, Judy.

    So, I spoke to a mix of Republicans farther north outside of Birmingham, areas where Donald Trump won in 2016 by upwards of 75 or more percent. And, now, some had mixed feelings about the allegations against Roy Moore. Some said they believed him. Some said they weren’t sure.

    But most of the people I spoke with said that, ultimately, they can’t bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. They said that, for them, their priorities are social issues, abortion, same-sex marriage, and other issues, and ultimately that far outweighed the allegations against Roy Moore.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Don Dailey, how does that square with what you have been hearing from voters, especially today, as they were having to make a decision?

  • Don Dailey:

     I spoke with pretty much a cross-section of voters today, and they were pretty entrenched, on one side, the Roy Moore supporters deeply behind him on some of the very issues that Dan mentioned there.

    Doug Jones supporters, by and large, saying they’re embarrassed by the allegations against Roy Moore and they would like to send someone to Washington who they feel like wouldn’t embarrass them, which has also been something that Doug Jones has been playing up a lot in his campaign ads in Alabama in the run-up to the election.

  • He has said emphatically:

    I won’t embarrass you, Alabama.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Don, are you sensing that people have made up their minds mostly in the late — in the last few days? Have they had their minds made up earlier? What did you see there?

  • Don Dailey:

    Some people we talked to as late as yesterday were telling us that they were still on the fence on this issue. There were enough Republicans who were rattled by the allegations who told us yesterday that they were going to have to make a last-minute decision when they went into the voting booth, but there were just as many who said they had their minds made up.

    There were some who have told us that they had their minds made up about Roy Moore even before the sexual misconduct allegations arose, given the past controversies that have followed him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dan, I think both of you — well, part of the story over the last few weeks has been the reaction of women voters in Alabama, women — Republican women in particular.

    What did you — what did you take away from talking to them?

  • Daniel Bush:

    You know, it’s interesting, Judy, because there wasn’t a very big difference between women Republicans and men.

    The women that I spoke to basically all said that, although they didn’t condone Roy Moore’s behavior, whether they believed it or not, they still ultimately felt that they had to vote for a Republican.

    And it’s notable. And this election is showing how deep partisanship runs in a race with a pretty stark choice. Female voters who said that they would be upset if those allegations were true still end up voting for Roy Moore on the issues alone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right. Well, we’re going to be talking to both of you as the night goes on and tomorrow.

    Dan Bush with the NewsHour, Don Dailey with Alabama Public Television, thank you both.

  • Don Dailey:

    Thank you, Judy.

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