Roy Moore's Disappearing Act

As the Alabama Senate race enters its final days, Doug Jones is making an all out push—while his rival is nowhere to be seen.

Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

MONTGOMERY, Ala.—The dramatic contrast between the two Senate campaigns in Alabama grew even more stark during the final weekend before Election Day.

Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, is holding multiple events every day, taking questions from the press, and campaigning with other Democratic politicians. His opponent Roy Moore has all but disappeared. Dogged by controversy following allegations by nine women of sexual misconduct or abuse when they were teenagers, Moore has not appeared in public since last Tuesday, and isn’t scheduled to do so again before Monday. Reports suggest that he was in Philadelphia on Saturday watching the Army-Navy football game, and a Moore spokesperson told me that he attended a Christmas gathering with supporters and friends on Sunday evening—closed to the press.

But such is the state of politics in Alabama that Moore’s postmodern facsimile of a campaign, with few staff, barely any physical presence, and an out-of-sight candidate, could very well be enough to win on Tuesday. In fact, it could actually benefit him.

“I think they’re counting on their media to carry the day, and feeling like anything they do at this point ‘the liberal media’ will use against him,” David Mowery, an Alabama political consultant who ran Bob Vance’s campaign against Moore in 2012, said in an email.

The Alabama-based Republican consultant Lance Hyche said that Moore’s disappearance from the trail means his campaign “obviously feels like they’re doing well,” and speculated that “maybe his camp feels like he can only get himself into trouble” by sending him out to face public scrutiny.

“Considering the media attention and negative campaigning and criticisms and accusations leveled against Judge Moore, maybe it is a good strategy,” Hyche said.

Moore has been a known quantity in Alabama for decades, and has a devoted fan base. He achieved national notoriety during the 2000s for his refusal to remove a 10 Commandments statue from the state Supreme Court, for which he lost his judgeship. And though he has kept himself out of the public eye for days, pro-Moore ads are running online and on TV and radio. President Trump recorded a robocall on his behalf after first encouraging people to vote for him on Friday night during a rally in Pensacola, Florida, close to the Alabama border.

Moore also gave an interview to a local political TV program on Sunday, “The Voice of Alabama Politics,” in which he was treated deferentially by the host, who suggested that the accusations against Moore stemmed from Moore’s stand on the 10 Commandments monument or opposition to same-sex marriage.

Moore’s first campaign event in nearly a week will take place on Monday night, when he is scheduled to speak at a “Drain the Swamp” rally in southeastern Alabama. Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon, who stuck with Moore even when many national Republicans were dropping him, will also appear—an indicator that Moore’s allies are feeling optimistic about the outcome of the race.

“If Bannon and Trump show up late in this race then they probably are confident Judge Moore’s gonna win and they want to say we helped him get there,” Hyche said.

But there are still some key holdouts, including Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, who appeared on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday morning to take aim at Moore.

“I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. But I wrote in a distinguished Republican name. And I think a lot of people could do that,” Shelby said.

Shelby’s opposition, and that of other Republicans, has become part of the Jones side’s message. A radio and TV ad running in Alabama quotes an earlier statement by Shelby saying he wouldn’t support Moore, an effort to persuade Republican voters whom Jones must pick off in order to form a winning coalition.

While Moore’s side knows who his core supporters are and is counting on them to turn out, Jones has a trickier balancing act, trying to assemble a coalition that includes Republicans. Jones’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage make him a no-go for the conservative voters Moore is counting on to boost him to victory.

Jones, who is known for having prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a black church, killing four young girls in Birmingham in 1963, has been heavily focused on African American voters. He needs significant black turnout in order to win. High-profile Democrats like former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker flew in to campaign with him this weekend, and Jones has been doing a lot of outreach in black churches and black neighborhoods.

On Sunday afternoon, Jones appeared with Booker at a field office in Birmingham. Booker made an image-based appeal to the voters, implying that Moore would embarrass them: “Don’t let anybody talk down to Alabama.”

A van circled around the event blaring a recorded message about voting for Jones, and a group held signs saying “VOTE OR DIE.”

The “VOTE OR DIE” signs are being made by the SOS Movement, a group of nonprofits working on turning out votes for Jones in the “Black Belt” of Alabama, according to Catrena Carter, 49, who was at the event in Birmingham with her 19-year-old son Kenyan.

“We’ve been caravaning and door-knocking in those places to make sure that everyone knows not only that there is an election on Tuesday but how important it is,” Carter said.

Birmingham City Councilwoman Sheila Tyson said she thought the conventional wisdom—that the black community was where enthusiasm lagged most—was wrong. “I think it’s gonna be the rural white community,” she said. “It’s gonna be the poor sections of the white areas that’s not going to come out.”

“I think the black community, we got it now. We fully understand the suppression that we are going through now,” she said.

In a state like Alabama, the politics of bringing in outside influencers is tricky—Jones himself took advantage of last week’s Bannon rally in Fairhope, tweeting that “We don’t need an outside agitator like Steve Bannon carpetbagging in Alabama”—and Booker made sure to mention his local ties while campaigning for Jones.

“My roots go into this state. My family were coal miners in the state of Alabama,” Booker told reporters in Birmingham on Sunday. “I owe a debt to Alabama and I can’t pay it back—those generations are past—but I can pay it forward.”

Over the final weekend, Jones generally avoided focusing on his rival, telling audiences that this race is not about either him or Moore. “I don’t need to respond to Roy Moore,” he told reporters in Birmingham.

But Jones has seized on Moore’s vanishing act.

“I don’t know what day we’re in now that Roy Moore is in hiding,” Jones told reporters outside the Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma on Saturday, mentioning Moore’s absence at events later this weekend as well.