(Brynn Anderson/Associated Press)
Opinion writer


Can Democrat Doug Jones win in Alabama today? The answer will mostly depend on three components, according to a senior Jones strategist I spoke to this morning: African American turnout must outperform expectations. Undecided white voters — there is still an unexpectedly large percentage of them, according to private data — must continue to break toward Jones. And, in an important but under-appreciated factor, a larger than expected percentage of GOP-leaning white voters — say, in the mid-single digits — has to write in somebody other than Roy Moore.

“It’s a dead heat,” Joe Trippi, a senior strategist to Jones, told me this morning, in characterizing the campaign’s data. “We’re right on the ragged edge.”

In our interview, Trippi described the route to victory for Jones as dependent on multiple moving parts. Donald Trump carried Alabama by 28 points in 2016, and a win here for a Democrat will require a highly improbable confluence of occurrences.

Trippi said the campaign’s data shows that the undecided vote among whites — which is the key right now, because African Americans are not undecided — remained higher than you might think even as recently as the past weekend. It could be higher than 10 percent, Trippi said. These undecided white voters are mostly women, a good number — but not all — concentrated in the suburbs around places such as Birmingham, Montgomery and Huntsville.

“We see undecided voters breaking to us, more than to Moore,” Trippi said, though he conceded that it remains to be seen “how real it is.”

Trippi also noted that the campaign was “seeing an increase in people who say they’re going to write in somebody.” Campaign data shows that this percentage may be as high as the mid-single digits, but Trippi conceded that there was no way to know if people would start “coming off of that” once the voting starts. “We don’t want that to drop,” he said.

This is key to understanding the Trump effect. Trump’s endorsement of Moore, delivered at a weekend Florida rally and via robo call, was very likely about reversing the movement of white voters into the write-in category — where people who might have voted for Moore don’t end up doing so — and of undecided whites into the Jones camp. This is also why Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-Ala.) CNN interview — in which he declared that Alabama “deserves better” than Moore — could end up being such a major factor. But no one knows which of those two will exert more pull.

Getting a sizable percentage to write-in votes is a crucial ingredient for Jones, along with undecided voters continuing to break to Jones, in capturing a large enough percentage of the white vote to win, which probably has to be in the mid-30s.

“If those two are happening, like we think they are, then the final piece is getting our vote out: African American women, younger voters,” Trippi said. “We have built the biggest get-out-the-vote structure ever put together in the state of Alabama, but it’s totally untested.” Trippi said African Americans would have to represent a percentage of the electorate that is in the mid-20s at a minimum, a view shared by other Democratic pollsters.

The rub of the matter is that all of these factors influence one another. If African American turnout is very robust, that might mean a Jones win is less dependent on the write-in camp being large enough or on undecided whites overwhelmingly breaking to him. Conversely, if one or both of those last two factors break Jones’s way, it might slightly mitigate the dependence on a large turnout among African Americans.

Still another possibility, suggested by Democratic pollster Zac McCrary, is that if turnout is lackluster among hard-core GOP voters, it could produce a white electorate that is a “touch more female, and a touch more highly educated” than usual, enabling Jones to hit his target with white voters.

All of these moving parts illustrate how tough it may prove for Jones to somehow prevail. You’d think it would be hard for Moore to win given the sexual allegations against him, not to mention his bigotry and lawlessness. But in reality, rising polarization, “negative partisanship” and the inclination of Republican voters to disbelieve media reporting about GOP candidates — all in a state that is deep, deep red to begin with — all mean that a Jones win can probably only happen if a miraculous confluence of factors breaks his way.

* THE FINAL POLLING AVERAGES: The Real Clear Politics polling averages put Roy Moore ahead of Doug Jones in Alabama by a scant 2.2 points. Moore has led in most recent polls, sometimes in the high single digits, so he appears to be the favorite.

Still, that’s a very slim lead, particularly in a state Trump carried by 28 points, so it would not require much of a polling miss for Jones to win. Polling special elections is difficult — and this particular electorate appears particularly difficult to model. So anything can happen.

* GOP SENATORS BRACE FOR A MOORE VICTORY: CNN reports that GOP Senate leaders won’t commit to giving Moore any committee seats if he wins, which could marginalize him. And:

Behind the scenes, GOP senators have been discussing their options on how to handle Moore, and the consensus is to pursue the matter with the Senate Ethics Committee, which could recommend his expulsion to the full Senate.But an ethics investigation could take months, leaving Moore in limbo in the Senate — especially if he’s denied committee assignments.

A big debate over Moore’s alleged sexual advances on teenage girls could stain the 2018 GOP Senate candidates. So it’s plausible that all this will simply be allowed to fade away.

* TRUMP ALLIES WORRY ABOUT HIS ACCUSERS: The Post reports that some close to Trump are not too happy that his accusers are renewing their allegations of sexual assault:

Some Trump aides, advisers and outside confidants are privately grappling with how to navigate the charged national environment over sexual misconduct … Some outside Republicans close to the president said they are increasingly uneasy about his ability to withstand a revived spotlight on his behavior toward women … A number of Trump associates are also wary of the potential political costs if the president goes on a sustained attack against his accusers.

It also appears that Democrats will keep up their drumbeat of pressure on Trump to step down, which could bait him into lashing out at Democrats and his female accusers.

* RIGHT ON CUE, TRUMP LASHES OUT: Good morning, Mr. President:

But as Manu Raju pointed out, the White House said yesterday that there are “multiple reports” of eyewitnesses debunking their accounts, which is undermined by Trump’s claim he never met them.

* THE LATEST TRUMP SCAM IS A JOKE: The Treasury Department released a one-page analysis purporting to be a real finding, from the Office of Tax Policy, that the GOP tax cuts will pay for themselves. Paul Krugman zeros in on why this is a “sick joke”:

Here’s how the report describes the process: “O.T.P. has modeled the revenue impact of higher growth effects, using the administration projections of approximately a 2.9 percent real G.D.P. growth rate over 10 years.” Notice the carefully deceptive wording. A casual reader might think that O.T.P. is predicting 2.9 percent growth — but what this actually says is that Trump officials simply told the office to assume high growth.

There was no real OTP analysis. And Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin had promised one. As Krugman says, either it doesn’t exist or it found that tax cuts won’t pay for themselves.

* ‘AUTHORITARIAN’ TRUMP WANTS TO DESTROY ‘OBJECTIVE TRUTH’: Indira Lakshmanan, who holds the Newmark chair in journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute, offers a good assessment of Trump’s nonstop lying and relentless attacks on the news media:

“It is a common thing in the authoritarian playbook to discredit the media so that they are the only source that can be trusted. Making it so there is no objective truth is the most dangerous thing of all of this.”

The real goal is to render factual reality irrelevant and to collapse public faith in the very idea that legitimate empirical and journalistic inquiry can help establish something approximating the truth.

* ONE OF THE MOORE FAMILY LAWYERS IS ‘A JEW’: At a rally last night, Kayla Moore set the record straight on those scurrilous allegations of anti-Semitism against her husband:

“Fake news would tell you that we don’t care for Jews. And I tell you all this because I’ve seen it and I just want to set the record straight while they’re here,” she said. “One of our attorneys is a Jew. We have very close friends that are Jewish, and rabbis, and we also fellowship with them.”

This comes after Roy Moore recently suggested that George Soros is going to hell, because he “doesn’t recognize God” or “accept his salvation.” Perhaps this does not apply to the Moore family’s Jewish lawyer?