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A Timeline Of Plot Twists And Bombshells: How We Got To Election Day In Alabama

Alabama Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore and his wife, Kayla, at a campaign event at Oak Hollow Farm in Fairhope, Ala., on Dec. 5.
Joe Raedle
Getty Images
Alabama Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore and his wife, Kayla, at a campaign event at Oak Hollow Farm in Fairhope, Ala., on Dec. 5.

Alabamians head to the polls Tuesday to vote for their next U.S. senator. For some, it will be the third time this year they've cast a ballot to determine who will assume the seat recently occupied by current Attorney General Jeff Sessions for two decades.

The circuitous path to get to this point has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Yes, the race is between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones, but this contest is much bigger than the two men vying for the open seat. The campaign encapsulates many of the topics the political world — and to some extent American culture — have been coming to grips with for some time.

The Alabama Senate race has been shrouded in scandal, in which a powerful man is accused of sexual misconduct and assault, though in this case it involves girls who were as young as 14 when the alleged perpetrator was in his 30s. Moore denies the allegations.

Beyond that, the contest has also become a flashpoint for Republicans about the future of the party and how much influence President Trump wields over voters, given his recent full-throated endorsement of Moore.

Meanwhile, Democrats hope they can build on other successes from contests in Virginia and New Jersey this year and notch a victory in a traditionally deep red state. All this, of course, overshadows what is immediately at stake: A victory for the Republicans maintains their slim margin of power in the Senate as is. A Democratic win would mean a shift to a razor-thin 51-49 margin.

Below is a timeline of how we got to this point:

Feb. 8: Jeff Sessions confirmed as attorney general

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is confirmed as the 84th attorney general of the United States. He passed by a near-party-line vote, 52-47, with only one Democrat voting yes. His confirmation process exposed deep divisions between the Democrats and Republicans in the opening weeks of the Trump administration, including the GOP moving to silence Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor during debate of his nomination.

Feb. 9: Luther Strange appointed to the Senate

Alabama's then-Gov. Robert Bentley taps the state's attorney general, Luther Strange, to fill Sessions' Senate seat until a special election can be held. This move is not without controversy. Bentley had been caught in web of scandals, including allegations he misused his office to hide an affair with a staffer. Strange was conducting an impeachment investigation of Bentley. Some saw this move as corrupt, because Bentley could not only pick a new senator but also select a new state attorney general to head the investigation. Despite all this, Strange is sworn in as the interim U.S. senator from Alabama.

April 10: Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigns

In a remarkable agreement, the embattled governor strikes a deal with the state attorney general's office to resign, plead guilty to a pair of misdemeanors and vow to never hold public office again. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey is sworn in to replace Bentley. Strange's association with Bentley hangs like a cloud over his primary campaign.

April 26: Republican Roy Moore announces his candidacy

Suspended Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore announces he is going to run for the U.S. Senate. He is an icon among Christian conservatives for his refusal to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building and for ordering state judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

May 10: Democrat Doug Jones kicks off Senate bid

Democrat Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney, announces he is running for Alabama's open Senate seat. Jones is best known for his successful prosecution of two Ku Klux Klansmen decades after their involvement in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which killed four young black girls.

Democratic senatorial candidate Doug Jones speaks at a news conference in Dolomite, Ala., on Dec. 4.
Brynn Anderson / AP
Democratic senatorial candidate Doug Jones speaks at a news conference in Dolomite, Ala., on Dec. 4.

Aug. 8: Trump backs Strange

Trump tweets support of the incumbent Strange, who had earlier received backing from Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. At the time, Trump says of the interim senator via tweet that he has "done a great job" and "has my complete and total endorsement!"

Aug. 15: Alabama special election primary

Jones defeats six other challengers to win the Democratic nomination outright. On the Republican side, of the nine candidates running, no one gets above 50 percent of the vote. The top two vote-getters, Strange and Moore, advance to a Republican primary runoff.

Aug. 28: Bannon breaks with Trump, backs Moore

Recently departed White House chief strategist Steve Bannon breaks with Trump and endorses Moore in the Republican runoff. The ex-Trump aide, who rejoined conservative website Breitbart News, hopes to energize evangelicals setting up a showdown in the runoff between establishment GOP forces and those in the conservative grass roots.

Sept. 26: Moore soundly defeats Strange in primary runoff

In a resounding win for the anti-establishment wing of the Republican Party, Moore's easy victory over Strange proves it can pull off a victory even when party leaders Trump and McConnell aren't in their corner. As NPR's Jessica Taylor reports at the time, McConnell's allied superPAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, poured more than $9 million into the race to back Strange. Not long after the results are in, Trump sends a congratulatory tweet to Moore, and McConnell says in a statement that Republicans look forward to "Judge Moore's help" enacting the conservative agenda when he arrives in Washington.

Sept. 27: Trump deletes tweets supporting Strange

A day after his preferred candidate, Strange, lost in a runoff, Trump begins deleting previous tweets in which he had supported him.

Nov. 8: Ivey says she will vote for Moore, but won't endorse

Ivey says she will vote for Republican nominee Roy Moore, but, as a practice, she reportedly does not publicly back candidates.

Nov. 9: Moore accused of sexual misconduct

Four women come forward in a bombshell Washington Post article with details about how Moore, decades ago, pursued romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. One of them, Leigh Corfman, says she was 14 and that Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her. Moore denies all allegations.

Nov. 10: Moore interviewed by Sean Hannity

Following the allegations detailed in the Washington Post, Moore goes on Sean Hannity's nationally syndicated radio program. Hannity asks: "Would it be unusual for you, as a 32-year-old guy, to have dated a woman as young as 17. That would be, what, a 15-year difference or a girl 18. Do you remember dating girls that young at that time?"

Moore responds: "Not generally, no. If I did, I'm not going to dispute anything, but I don't remember anything like that."

Many Republicans, like 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, tweet that Moore should step aside: "Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections." He says he believes Corfman and calls Moore "unfit for office."

Nov. 12: First poll shows Jones with slight lead

Following the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, his Democratic opponent, Jones, jumps to a 4-point lead, 46 percent to 42 percent. It's a month out from the election and within the poll's margin of error.

Nov. 13: Gloria Allred, a fifth accuser and a yearbook signature

Beverly Young Nelson becomes the fifth woman to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct. She says he groped and tried to force himself on her while in his car in the late 1970s. At the time, Nelson says, she was 16 and Moore was in his 30s. She makes the allegations alongside celebrity attorney Gloria Allred during a news conference, where she holds up a page in her high school yearbook and says Moore signed it:

"To a sweeter, more beautiful girl I could not say Merry Christmas. Christmas 1977. Love, Roy Moore, D.A. 12-22-77 Olde Hickory House."

Supporters of Moore quickly point to what they see as differences in handwriting in the yearbook and call for the inscription to be independently examined.

Nov. 13: Calls for Moore's expulsion from Senate, should he win

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who also serves as chair of the National Republican Senate Committee, says that if Moore should win, the Senate should "vote to expel him."

Nov. 14: RNC pulls funding from Moore

The Republican National Committee files paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to sever fundraising ties with Moore. The National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled out of the same agreement the previous week. Senate Leader McConnell also floats Sessions as a possible write-in candidate.

Nov. 15: More women come forward, bringing total to eight

Three more women come forward, accusing Moore of misconduct. Two of the women in a separate Washington Post story say Moore, in his 30s, approached them while they worked at Sears as teenagers. Another woman says Moore groped her in his law offices. She was of age but says the attention was unwanted. This brings the total number of accusers to eight. Moore again denies all wrongdoing.

Nov. 17: Ivey still backs Moore

Ivey is asked at the state's traditional Thanksgiving turkey-pardoning event about Moore and whether she still plans to vote for him. According to AL.com, the governor cites holding the GOP majority in the Senate as a top priority.

"I believe in the Republican Party, what we stand for, and most important, we need to have a Republican in the United States Senate to vote on things like the Supreme Court justices, other appointments the Senate has to confirm and make major decisions," she says. "So that's what I plan to do, vote for Republican nominee Roy Moore."

Nov. 21: Trump on Moore's allegations: "He totally denies it"

As he is heading off to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump briefly stops to answer questions about Moore. He points to the fact that the allegations of sexual misconduct happened 40 years ago and says Moore's opponent Jones is "terrible" on crime, the military and the border.

"I can tell you one thing for sure," the president adds, "we don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat."

On Nov. 21, President Trump all but endorsed embattled Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, discounting the sexual assault allegations against him.
Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
On Nov. 21, President Trump all but endorsed embattled Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, discounting the sexual assault allegations against him.

Nov. 27: Another contender jumps in the race as a write-in

A 60-year old retired marine, Lee Busby, announces he is launching a long-shot write-in candidacy in the Alabama Senate race as an independent. In an interview with Time, Busby says that should he win, he is likely to vote with Republicans, but he stops short of saying he will caucus with them.

Dec. 4: Trump endorses Moore; RNC reinstates financial support

Erasing any lingering doubt on where he stands, Trump issues a full-throated endorsement of Moore, tweeting:

"LAST thing the Make America Great Again Agenda needs is a liberal Democrat in the Senate we have so little margin for victory already. The Pelsosi/Schumer Puppet Jones would be a vote against us 100% of the time. He's bad on Crime, Life, Border, Vets, Guns & Military. VOTE ROY MOORE"

According to the White House, the president called Moore to discuss his race. The RNC reverses course and re-engages funding to the embattled candidate.

Moore confirms and touts Trump's endorsement via Twitter, closing with the hashtag MAGA, Make America Great Again, to show solidarity with the president:

Dec. 8: Trump stumps for Moore (in Florida); return of the yearbook signature

In the final days of the campaign, Nelson, the accuser who said Moore signed her high school yearbook 40 years ago, holds another news conference with her lawyer, Allred. Nelson clarifies her earlier account, saying she added a notation to the yearbook inscription, but she maintains that Moore's signature and message are authentic. At a campaign rally for Moore (who is not in attendance) that evening, in Pensacola, Fla., about 20 miles from the Alabama state line, Trump seizes on these developments, telling the crowd Republicans can't afford to lose this Senate seat.

Dec. 9: Jones courts black voters

As polls indicate a tightening race, Jones brings in high-profile black surrogates to help create enthusiasm among Alabama's African-American voters. Two of the biggest names in the party, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, make campaign appearances. At a stop in Selma, according to Politico, Booker tells the crowd, "Bad people get elected when good people don't vote."

Dec. 10: Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby: "I couldn't vote for Roy Moore"

In an appearance on CNN, Alabama's Republican senior Sen. Richard Shelby says he wants to see a Republican win the open seat, but he doesn't want it to be Moore. Shelby says he already cast his ballot and chose a write-in candidate.

Dec. 11: Presidential robocalls

Trump records a call urging Alabama voters to support Moore and says a Democratic win would be a blow to his agenda. Former President Barack Obama cuts a competing call, saying, "Doug Jones is a fighter for equality, for progress."

Dec. 12: Election Day

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: December 11, 2017 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous version of this story misspelled Deval Patrick's first name as Duval.
Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
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